Indiana University Bloomington

May, la madrugada

Penn Libraries call number: Inc B-720

Steven Johnson, English, liberal arts management program

Written for ENG-L306: Middle English Literature: Dreams & Visions

Instructor: Prof. Shannon Gayk

May, la madrugada.

A pink sun clipped over sill

and weaned me off REM.


Birds, heaps of them.


They tweeted a madrigal

and popped me awake.


Magpies, swallows, ‘gales,

sparrows, piled on the tiles,

spilled over the gutters and clattered.


Their chatter swelled

and out slipped one thrumming

hymn. A prayer, brainless,


A song to trade a town on,

To snap a Stradivarius

and sell it for shavings.


The lesson, shaved, was,

even skilled and stupid

they didn’t spare their throats.


adapted from Chaucer’s “Book of the Duchess”

The Middle Ages were an artistic house party – raucous pagan gods met a Christian sense of Kind, ordered nature. In dream visions Chaucer blended the two traditions in literal architectures of storytelling, heroes and holy icons painted over stained glass. His Book of the Duchess opens with a choir of birds outside a bedchamber lined with such stories. Here, sacrifice makes beauty – and there’s nothing more Christian than that.

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