24 September 2013

This is the Hous that Fame Built

In some ways, I think that the hardest thing about blogging for a class and on an academic subject is tone. This week, I'm going to try to geek out over now, before I've said anything of real substance. This is, I'm a bit ashamed to admit, the first time I've read Hous of Fame. I knew the basic premise, of course, and have heard about it plenty of times ... but I'd never actually read it before. My marginalia is chockablock with exclamation points, hearts and smilies, and, at one point, a barely-legible "this is crazypants!". Really, my goal in this blog post is to organize these completely un-critical thoughts into some sort of cogent thought about what is happening in this poem, particularly Book 2.

Of course, this is the cognition and identity show, so we all know what I'm going to write about. In particular, I want to focus on lines 555–566:

Til at the laste he to me spak
In mannes vois and sayde, "Awak!"
And be nat agast so, for shame!"
And called me by my name,
And, for I sholde the bet abreyde
Me mette "Awak" to me he seyde
Right in the same vois and stevene
That useth oon I coude nevene;
And with that vois, soth for to seyne,
My minde cam to me ageyne,
For it was goodly seyd to me,
So nas it never wont to be.

So. Let's provide a little context, shall we? Chaucer (the narrator, but considering that the eagle calls him "Geffrey" in line 728, we can probably assume that Chaucer and the narrator are even more closely linked in this poem than perhaps in other dream visions, where the connection between author and narrator can be a bit more blurry) is already asleep long before the lines began; he falls asleep on the tenth of December, when "...as I slept, me mette I was / Within a temple y-mad of glas" (119–20). After a long description of the engravings at the Temple of Venus (which mirror the paintings outside the courtyard in the Romaunt of the Rose—which was originally what I planned to write about this week), an eagle arrives overhead. Then, the narrative is disrupted again for the invocation of the second book. Finally, the eagle snatches poor Geffrey up only a few lines into Book 2, and he speaks the lines quoted above only about 20 lines after the beginning of the first book.

So when the eagle tells him to wake up, does he remain sleeping? When the narrator then dreams the invocation to walk up being spoken into his ear again, is he sleeping within his dream? Is he actually awake? After the speech, spoken by a voice "Right in the same stevene / That useth oon I coulde name," (According to the notes in the Norton, this may refer to Chaucer's wife), he awakens ... into his dream.

Speaking of the line between waking and sleep, I am blurring it far too much at present to be able to write any more coherently on the subject. I do want to develop this idea further; however, a practical application of the dream vision is not a helpful means to those ends. I will post more details in the morning.

Next week, stay tuned for an old favorite: (more) eagles, and dreamers, and Nature—oh, my! After that, there may be cookies.

1 comment :

  1. Exactly! Or rather, marvellously blurrily! I love the way you're pointing out all the liminal moments. Chaucer learns them from Machaut, perhaps; perhaps from Langland? I'd be interested to know what you think is going on, cognitively, during Chaucer's upward flight: I think the 'feathers of thought' Boethian reference is designed to make us ask ourselves that.