Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licóur
Of which vertú engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye,
So priketh hem Natúre in hir corages,
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages…
So begin the famous first lines of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, which many generations of Bucknell English students have studied and some have learned by heart.
Unlike Dante’s medieval pilgrimage, Chaucer’s pilgrims were both down-to-earth and moving amid complex relations of storytelling and different voices, in both embodied and spiritual realms. Chaucer’s pilgrims remain forever on the road to Canterbury in Chaucer’s unfinished cycle, in an eternal season of poetic spring. And so in a sense are we as his readers.
In The Franklin’s Tale amid Chaucer’s spring storytelling, we are asked who among the characters in their comic tangle of debt and forgiveness was “most free.” “Free” here means not merely a sense of individual rights, but of generosity, getting back to a basic meaning of the liberal arts as imparting a larger cosmic and human empathy to our lives.
That’s what we in Literary Studies strive gladly to learn and teach, to borrow another phrase from Chaucer’s poetry, in a discipline where we all always are, each at once, students and teachers and storytellers and rhetoricians combined.
Lit Studies students this semester have been and are “on the road,” participating in a bookmaking workshop, class trips to the Schomburg Center for Black Culture of the New York Public Library and to the Cloisters Museum of medieval art, reading in a Milton marathon, working on finishing a TV documentary as part of a digital storytelling project, participating in a Celebrate Shakespeare event, learning from a visiting scholar writing the first full biography of a pioneering woman nature writer, watching a special showing of To Kill a Mockingbird at the campus theatre and engaging in a discussion of the book and film, and discussing “zaniness” as a contemporary category of aesthetics with this year’s visiting Morrow Scholar. These are just a few of the ways that Lit Studies engages with a myriad of critical and creative endeavors in human experience.
Death, too, is a part of life, and we mourn this semester the passing of our longtime and esteemed colleague Professor Michael Payne, even as we celebrate the memory of his life. He was on the English faculty at Bucknell from 1969 to 2007 and was an important influence on today’s Department of English and our new Literary Studies Program.
The life of our program, building on his work and that of other faculty old and new, continues into the fall with offerings of a wealth of courses also listed here in this newsletter. Please take a moment to look at our range of offerings, from courses in Caribbean Literature, Literature and Human Rights, and Yeats and Modern Ireland, to Tolkien’s Eco-Philosophy, Romantic Revolution, and Introduction to African-American Literature. The ongoing journey through human experience in our program goes on this spring with new declarations of Literary Studies majors among second-year students, seniors completing their literary honors theses, and hundreds of students signing up for Lit Studies classes again for next academic year. Like the travelers on the road to Canterbury, our journey continues.
Alfred Kentigern Siewers