The Prologue begins with an exchange between the Stonecutter and the Landlord of a wayside Inn. The first stanza seeks to give a picture all at once of a rustic man tired of the bustle of city life. London was a large medieval city of approximately 35,000 souls with a transient population of some 10,000. It is a far cry from the 12 Million that live in London today with the additional 10 Million that journey into the city daily to work-not to mention the fluctuating tourist population. To compare, the entire faculty of Middlesex University is close to 30,000 strong, which is easily equivalent to the entire population of a grand medieval city.
“Good day to ye Barkeep! How do ye fare?
I left London this morning without a care,
For I have worked there one year and I miss
Country air. The song of the lark and kiss
Of the breeze that up from the valleys brings
A worker such ease. The songs maidens sing
While out in the fields, I miss all those days
When in youth I learned my Stonecutter’s trade.”
The second stanza, the first reply to the Stonecutter, advertises the services on offer to the traveller. Many Inns were tied houses in the city often owned by merchants or other trades as a sideline. A major roadside Inn on the other hand was more likely to be an independent business with an attached brewery, stables and various accommodations.
“I fare well thank ye Stonecutter and pray
Would ye care for cold ale and a place to lay
Thy tired traveller’s head, road-riven feet?
I can call a wench to warm up thy sheet!
I have such pies and stew and bread and mead
There’s no more could any journeyman need
That came to my Inn on Great Cambridge road
Not North nor South is a more fit abode.”
The third stanza begins with a hook repetition of the last line of the preceding stanza. This effect is repeated to effect a linking of the rest of the stanzas in the Prologue. This is not a new technique. A very good example of this can be found in Pearl wherein a single word is used to link separate cantos of nine stanzas. In Pearl the effect is a unifying one whereas I have adapted the ‘link’ technique to enhance the conversational aspect of the Prologue. Here are two men listening and responding to each other in a civilised and light-hearted manner.
“A more fit abode I could scarce believe
I was told of this house by an old Reeve
On his way back from pilgrimage, he’d come
Canterb’ry through London, Norfolk was home.
His party had told tales along the way
To pass the measure of the journey’s day
Some stories were lewd and some stories wry
Some were marvels and some moved him to sigh.”
Now we know that something extraordinary is about to be related to the assembled company!