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postmedieval

, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp 410–419 | Cite as

‘Farewel my bok’: Paying attention to flowers in Chaucer’s prologues to The Legend of Good Women

  • Gillian RuddEmail author
Original Article

Abstract

Chaucer is no botanist. Typically, flowers enter his poetry as similes for female beauty (the Knight’s Emelye), more rarely as indiscriminate clusters of colour signalling courtly landscapes (Parlement of Fowls, Book of the Duchess). The daisy of the Prologue to The Legend of Good Women is an exception; venerated by Chaucer’s dream-persona, it receives accurate, detailed description before being personified in his dream as Alcestis. Chaucer is by no means unique in this superficial approach to flowers: intriguingly, flowers in general gain only a fleeting mention under trees in Isidore of Seville’s influential Etymologies XVII.vi.21, where we learn flores are so named because they ‘quickly drop [defluere] from trees.’ However, following Michael Marder, superficiality offers a useful paradigm for thinking with plants. Dilettantism becomes attention, enabling associations that privilege present over past – flowers over roots. Fleeting flowers seem scarcely available to us as subjects of empathy, let alone rights or justice: arguably more remote even than trees, they pose different questions to ecologically invested critics, while the ease with which they are (superficially) understood offers clues to how literary critics may join debates about the way green spaces and entities are valued.

References

  1. Barney, S., et al., trans. 2006. The ‘Etymologies’ of Isidore of Seville. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Chaucer, G. 1988a. Prologue to The Legend of Good Women, eds. A.S.G. Edwards and M.C.E. Shaner. In The Riverside Chaucer, ed. L. Benson et al., 587–603. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
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  5. Marder, M., and P. Vieira. 2013. Writing Phytophilia: Philosophers and Poets as Lovers of Plants. Frame 26(2): 37–53.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Limited 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EnglishUniversity of LiverpoolLiverpoolUK

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