The Boy for a King's Delight
Part 2 of 2 (10 minutes)
"He knew at what he aimed to accomplish, projecting his own personality into his work, seizing the salient points, presenting life, pulsating, colourful, drenched in the soft beauty that is forever England; interpreting subtly those inner forces and emotions responsible for the outward trend of the times in which he lived."
Or, if you prefer to read:
He knew at what he aimed to accomplish, projecting his own personality into his work, seizing the salient points, presenting life, pulsating, colourful, drenched in the soft beauty that is forever England; interpreting subtly those inner forces and emotions responsible for the outward trend of the times in which he lived. It was the poet in the Boy visioning great The Boy for a King's Delight 7 things for England, things that the shrewd business side of his mind would help to resolve into reality. Yet the Boy loved his world of romance, that world of chivalry overshadowing still the commercial side of life, tingeing it with its picturesqueness and colour. Life was still an adventure, its commercialism caught in beauty, the guilds exuding beauty even as they breathed likewise that spirit of democracy, that freedom boom of Runnymede inherent in the race. A lover of sunlight, of nature, the Boy had always been, and his verse as his heart sang of April, of birds and a world of gold, bird notes throbbing through his tales as sunshine through forest trees. His joyous spirit, his humour flashed forth even at his own expense. Yet his joyousness was touched by deeper notes. This Boy, who knew the He of the river front as well as of the Tower, of the mob as well as of the nobility, pondered much upon life, its wide contrasts, the "sombre sides of man's destiny," his going forth to his work and to his labour—until the evening," a questioning wistfulness the deeper for its setting of sun-shot gaiety and humour. His whole nature, so joyous and so gay, possessed too, that quality of tenderness, so characteristic of him always, especially in his attitude toward women. Reverence for women had been part of his knightly training; instilled into him by the white-haired priest who had tutored him at the palace, that reverence hitch had its inception in the worship of Our Lady, a reverence imparted by Holy Church developing this Age of Chivalry in which the lad lived. His simple faith, his reverent love of women had been taught him first at his mother's knee, her gentleness and flower-like beauty commanding the Boy's passionate loyalty, setting his ideal of womanhood very high. "Guard a woman as thou wouldn't thine honour, A Book of Boyhoods fray," she had said to him one day, and the words had sunk deep, leaving their impress upon the Boy. How deep an impress they had made, was demonstrated not long after by his beating a Franciscan friar in the London streets, he having caught the friar making too free with a lass near the Three Tuns Tavern. Two shillings his chivalry had cost him, but the Boy, nothing daunted, had sworn to offend again in like manner if occasion de- manded. Geoffrey's tender sympathy with life, revealed his love of humanity, a human, tolerant attitude toward life drawing men to him. His understanding found quick response among children, and many a day he sat surrounded by them in castle hall or by the river bank, weaving them tales out of his imagination. Love to the Boy, was the conqueror of all things; love was to him the emblem of all things pure and noble, the ideal that was to guide him across the quick-sands of life. He was to meet the realities of life boldly, dominating them, preserving his ideal- ism even though the ironies of Hfe, its seeming futility, its tragedy, its sordidness met him at every turn. He knew first hand the soil, the grimy sweat of the crowd; but he knew also the fineness of soul lying unstained beneath. As the sunset deepened, the Boy caught too the deepening beauty, a throbbing beauty gripping his very soul. His mind flooded back to his childhood, the house on Thames Street that he had known since babyhood, standing beside the tiny Wall brook, rising in the fens beyond Moorgate, and so tracing its way to the Thames and to the sea, this insignificant tributary as necessary to the river as the humblest mariner to his ship or the yeoman peasant to the nation. These fens beyond Moorgate possessed a certain quality of romance for the lad, their The Boy for a King's Delight 9 grey desolate stretches suggestive of adventure, of the abode of cutthroats and robber bands stealing like shadows from the London streets and highways to hide their booty in this haunted marshland. Many a day the lad had followed the stream to the edge of those wild, desolate fens, drawn thither by a beauty revealed only to the poet soul,—the beauty of purpling mists as the dawn flushed their greyness, turning them to gold ; or at sundown when the gossamer web gathered to itself the shimmering gold-dust of the west, to slowly fade in the blue, northern twilight. It was a land of adventure to the Boy, these fens, a voyage into an unknown country, where in the grey quiet, broken perhaps by the cry of a startled bird, the Boy gathered his dreams about him, his soul steeped in beauty, a beauty through which people moved; for the Boy's world of imagination was always peopled, human nature that which held and delighted him most, human nature that ever changing was yet ever the same, the problem upon which he loved to dwell ; the Anglo-Saxon in him tending to moralizing and philosophizing upon life, upon the men and women who, like himself, made up its sum. The Boy's thoughts flooded back to his grandfather, Robert le Chaucer who in 1310 had been appointed one of the Collectors of the Port of London, new customs levied upon wines having been granted the merchants of Aquitaine ; this service of the king to be inherited by his father, who, two years before the Boy's birth, had with forty-five others crossed the seas with the King to serve with him in France. Now after these years of noviciate, he too was setting forth, this time to fight for his King and merry England, to give his life, if need be, proving himself worthy of the spurs he hoped to win. For two years he had been in the service of a noble house, his 10 A Book of Boyhoods whole life a preparation for this moment now at hand. How would he acquit himself, he wondered? His blue eyes caught fire at the thought of the unknown adventure lying beyond the horizon. Action he loved, and before the campaign was over, he would, he knew, have drawn his sword in good earnest for the King. Life lay before him, a gleaming road that, perforce, would at times lead through shadowed ways, a road as crowded as his pilgrims' way to Canterbury, and leading to a like goal ; for he had been called to a life of service, a life to be spent in the service of England and his King, now as a soldier, now on some delicate foreign mission to Italy or to France, demanding of him, trusted envoy of the king, the exercise of all his powers in its accomplishment; bringing him, likewise, into contact with those of high estate, the greatest minds of his age, kings, nobles and the cultured circle found in courts headed by noble Petrarch, men with whom he would stand as equal, England to be proud of her mighty poet, the vintner's son. In riper years, he was destined to appear in numerous roles, as Controller of Customs, as a knight in Parliament, as Clerk of the King's Works. Standing on the quay in the fading light, Geoffrey saw his life stretching out, the avenues of the world opening before him, a life rich, as variegated as a pageant through which he was to move and later to immortalize in verse, a vision of England growing and expanding, blossoming in this Golden Age of Chivalry of which he was to be so vital a part. The forerunner of all that noble throng of poets who were to come after, he would be the link between the old and the new, one who knew life in all its phases, yet who to the end would keep his faith, his purity, his sweetness, a personality that would stand out throughout the ages as representative The Boy for a King's Delight ii of the blending of democracy and nobility, as triumphing over birth and station in an age when democracy was at the dawning. With a last sweep of his deep blue eyes up and down the river that he loved, Geoffrey Chaucer with a smile playing about his full, handsome lips, turned back toward the timbered house on Thames Street to take farewell of his father and mother before he set forth on his voyage to France that was to open for him the gateway of his dreams, dreams holding in them the spirit of the quest.