"Bifor Aprille was the cruellest moneth (whatever that meneth!), it was a moneth of coloures and cries, and pilgrymages," writes Geoffrey Chaucer at his blog. (Yes, Chaucer hath a blog; he also hath high cholesterol and a wyf who is glad he's dieting: "She seyd that ich was 'blowing up lyk post-Kevin Britney.' ")
There's a reason T.S. Eliot and Chaucer had different views of April, of course -- one of those reasons is bearing down on the Northeast even now. So if you prefer Chaucer's spring -- if you still can recite "When that Aprille with his shoures soote / The droght of March hath perced to the roote," and so on -- then hie thee to Chaucer's celebration of the month.
Chaucer asked his fans for poetic readings and tributes, and he got them. "FSJL" offered these lines on another aspect of April's cruelty:
Whan that Aprille doth March displace,
with weping, walinge, and cryes folk do disporte
for there beth ne shelter ne resorte,
The IRS doth every fotestepe trace,
and will nat grante even a minute's grace,
an ye paye not, thenne the kyng his courte,
shall distrain on ye, and ye shall falle shorte.
And Tremulus Aescgar responded with a translation of the Prologue to the "Canterbury Tales" in the English of two or three centuries earlier:
Hwæt! Ða Eostre-monaþ mid his regne swete,
þæt drygenysse of Hreð-monaþ þurhdrifode to þam wyrtrumum,
and baðeþ hwelce ædre on swelce wine,
fram hwilc gehwilce bloma bið weaxode.
If you worry that English is changing too fast, pity Chaucer's pilgrims, whose language had evolved in a comparative heartbeat. Unlike them, we can read centuries-old texts with barely a stumble; take, say, Swift's rhymes on rain in the first few lines of "Description of a City Shower" (1710):
Careful observers may foretell the hour,
(By sure prognostics,) when to dread a shower.
While rain depends, the pensive cat gives o'er
Her frolics, and pursues her tail no more.
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Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.
Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.
Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.
Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.
Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."
Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.
Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.