Article Series - Chaucerizing
It’s been awhile since I Chaucer’d something — taken a passage out of a book and translated it into the Middle English of the end of the fourteenth century — and I’ve been feeling the itch again. Since I’ll be heading to JordanCon this week, I could think of no better text to work with than one from Robert Jordan.
This decision, in turn, led me to a conundrum: the same conundrum, as it happens, that I face when I think about Chaucerin’ George R.R. Martin. Of the many awesome scenes and passages, which bit do I do? One wants some text that is exciting and fun and linguistically interesting, but it also needs to be short: Despite what my students think, I do have a life of my own.
In the present case, I’ve decided to start with my favorite passage from The Eye of the World, the first book (not counting the prequel) of The Wheel of Time series. Meanwhile, I’ve also begun eyeing a longer passage — my favorite from the whole series — that occurs in the Jordan-Sanderson Towers of Midnight.
At any rate, let’s get to a first look at Jordan as Chaucer might have written it. The passage in question comes from the mouth of the character Thom Merrilin, a sort of traveling bard who may be more than he seems.
The Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan
The Eyhe of the Erthe, by Hrodebert Iurdane
[Chaucer knew and used the word world, but I'm trying to keep in mind that he wrote to be heard aloud, and I think "Eye of the Earth" is pretty darn smooth.]
I have all stories, mind you now, of Ages that were and will be.
I have al tales, remembrestow now, of former Ages and Ages to be.
[For Chaucer, "stories" are generally considered non-fictional, while "tales" can include more imaginative narratives. I've also taken some liberty with Jordan's transitive verb mind: Chaucer could have done this, but he would have been on the cutting edge to do so. More likely he would have gone to the old standby "remember" and subsumed the pronoun into it; the result is a rather pedagogical admonition in the middle of the sentence, which fits the context well.]
Ages when men ruled the heavens and the stars, and Ages when man roamed as brother to the animals.
Ages whanne men reuled the hevenes and sterres, and Ages whanne man romede als brother to the beestes.
[The word animal comes into English right at the end of Chaucer's life, but I suspect that an older word would be more his style here since Thom is talking about a very distant age.]
Ages of wonder, and Ages of horror. Ages ended by fire raining from the skies, and Ages doomed by snow and ice covering land and sea.
Ages of wonder, and Ages of horrour. Ages endede by fyre fallynge doune as reyne from the skyes, and Ages domede by snawe and yse that covereth londe and see.
[A couple of interesting things to note here: for Chaucer, fire could mean both fire, which he considered an element, and passion, which he considered elemental. I could perhaps have worked to cut off the wordplay, but I actually think it fits well with Jordan's idea of balance. Also, though rain is an Old English word, I can't recall the form "raining" being used until the 16th century. Odd, eh?]
I have all stories, and I will tell all stories.
I have al tales, and I wol telle al tales.
[Nothing much to add here except to say that if you come to my talk on Saturday morning you'll start to see how very much Thom seems to be talking for Jordan here!]
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