‘Litle herd gromes piping in the wind’
The Shepheardes Calender, The House of Fame and ‘La Compleynt’
in Rereading Chaucer and Spenser
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The Dedicatory Epistle to The Shepheardes Calendar tells us that the ‘newe poet’ wrote with the ‘sound of ancient poets ringing in his ears’. The Calendar’s scholarly apparatus figures Chaucer as a pastoral poetic progenitor, aligned with Virgil. In the eclogues proper, however, precise reference to Chaucer’s words and phrases are scarce. The most precise recall are the lines in the February eclogue about little herdgrooms piping in broom bushes from The House of Fame. Yet, for a reader whose ears are tuned to Chaucerian pitch, these lines cause problems. Those little herdgrooms, piping in their green corn, become enveloped in a musical troupe from Chaucer’s poem that approaches cacophony; pipes become eclipsed by unnameable noise, and the names of Tityrus and Colin Clout are comically disfigured.

Resonance (literary tinnitus) is difficult to regulate. How far does it extend? How do you moderate its volume and tone? If those lines on pipers and herdgrooms ringing in the new poet’s head are not taken directly from Chaucer at all, Chaucer is read as a Chaucerian. If they are taken from Chaucer then Spenser may have recognised Chaucer, not as an illustrious forebear, but as a comedy sparring partner.

Rereading Chaucer and Spenser

Dan Geffrey with the New Poete


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