Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu 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 halve cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye,
(So priketh hem nature 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.
–Geoffrey Chaucer, opening lines of the Prologue
to The Canterbury Tales, 1387
I started the Pastimes newsletter back in March in response to the closing of our library during the coronavirus pandemic. In that first issue I featured Boccaccio’s The Decameron, which is a collection of 100 tales that are all framed by the story of a group of ten nobles who each agree to tell a story a day during the ten days while they are quarantined in the countryside avoiding the Black Death.
Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales is often discussed along with Boccaccio’s work because its collection of stories are also joined together by a frame tale: a group of religious pilgrims find themselves traveling together to Canterbury, England and each one agrees to tell a total of four stories to entertain each other along the way. But what also unites these two works is the specter of the plague. Chaucer’s pilgrims are traveling to visit the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral after praying for his help during the spread of the Black Death. So while The Decameron starts near the beginning of the plague, The Canterbury Tales begins at its end.
Unlike Chaucer’s pilgrims, we may have missed out on enjoying our April (and most of May), but now that we share with the travelers the emergence of spring and the beginning phases for ending our quarantine we should join them by getting outside and making some of our own “pilgrimages” around town (see the entries below for ideas)–and, if you were an English major in college and were required to memorize the opening lines to The Canterbury Tales as I was, recite some Chaucer along the way.
–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian
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- Walk the Westborough Charm Bracelet Trail System – The Westborough Community Land Trust helps oversee this network of walking trails in and around Westborough. Trail maps are available on their website to help you navigate.
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- Make a “Pilgrimage” to the Burial Site of Our Town’s First Minister – Rev. Ebenezer Parkman is buried in Memorial Cemetery on West Main Street (between the Forbes Municipal Building and Westborough TV), and his gravesite is so elaborate in comparison to the others that you will easily find it.
Once you also finish wandering among the gravestones of other Westborough residents who lived during Parkman’s time, walk down the street to the Congregational Church, and, if you are lucky enough to find it open, visit the Parkman Memorial Chapel. The chapel has the same dimensions as Westborough’s original meeting house, and in it you can see Parkman’s Bible and stand behind the pulpit from which he gave his sermons.
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- Celebrate Along with the Birds the Arrival of Springtime and Our New Limited Freedoms – Chaucer describes spring as a time when “smale foweles maken melodye,” so let’s pay attention and enjoy their songs. The New York Times has a nice set of seven tips to help those of us who have never engaged in formal birdwatching to become more attuned to the lives of birds. I, for one, plan to use it while sitting out on my back deck as the weather continues to warm up.