Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Absorbent Unconscious

Yesterday I did my thing in Brit Lit where I chant the first 18 lines of Chaucer's "General Prologue" at the class and they repeat it back to me, first as a whole body and then in groups (I read line 1; they all repeat line 1; I read line 1; Group 1 repeats line 1; I read line 2; etc.). I kind of like doing this, as silly as I (and they) feel: I always joke that it's my day to pretend that I'm a 19th-century schoolmaster.

So then, at 3:30 this morning, AS HAS BECOME COMPLETELY TYPICAL, Darling Kitty # 1 (aka Priss) awoke me with her plaintive mews.

Unable to get back to sleep, I found my brain dwelling on the line, "The droughte of March hath perced to the roote," perhaps because I spent a while emphasizing that it is toe the rota, not too the roooot. And then I found myself reconstructing more phrases...and more...and it turns out that I have, inadvertently and without even realizing it, memorized those first 18 lines.

It was funny to watch myself reconstruct them, too, because sometimes a word would evade me or I would have to visualize where on the page a certain line is in order to bring it back. But this morning, at breakfast, I was able to recite the whole damn thing from memory to TM over breakfast.

Ah, blessed kitties. Their enragingly ungodly early morning calls serve some purpose after all. Or perhaps she's simply like the birds who maken melodye And slepen all the night with open ye. Hath Nature so perced in hir corages? I had no idea.

(I have another cat story coming--a totally absurd story--that actually involves my canceling class today. But that'll wait. And isn't it remarkable how a single cat photo series has redirected this entire damn blog towards Teh Kittehs?)


Flavia said...

I had to memorize the first 18 lines in college, and I still have them memorized, which permits the cheap trip of walking into class the first day of CT, and just declaiming.

But it also means I wander around speaking those lines for weeks, inadvertently, like a song stuck in my head, whenever I teach CT.

As for the precious kitteh: I took benadryl pretty regularly after getting my first cat, right before going to sleep: it allowed me to wake up when he wanted to be fed, but to fall back asleep easily. As time went on I was able to do this without drugs--I think his noises were no longer the distraction they were at first.

(Or you could get an automatic food dispenser?)

Thoroughly Educated said...

On the GP: I used to require students to memorize the first 18 lines, too. The fun intermediate step between my party-trick recitation and their showing up in my office to recite it themselves, in private, was to go around the room with each student taking a line, and then each student taking a couplet. If somebody blanked when it was their turn, they could pass and the next person would take up the recitation, but the person who passed would get another turn whent the recitation came around the room again. General hilarity.

Fretful Porpentine said...

Dumb early modernist question: Since it's at the end of a line, how do we know that it's "rota" and not "rote"? I usually use the meter as my guide for when to pronounce that final e, but in this case it works either way, so I'm never sure what to tell my students.

heu mihi said...

Fretful--I could be wrong about this (since it's actually kind of in the realm of Unexamined Assumptions), but my take is that ME is generally pretty phonetic in spelling, so the unstressed "e" is mainly dropped before vowels and at other points when it's more or less unpronounceable--but that at the end of a line it would still be pronounced (though not at all stressed, of course).

And even though it's not essential to the meter, I find that it's much easier to *say* the line with the terminal -e.

Hm. Watch me commence my second-guessing. Any other help out there? Have I been mis-assuming?

Fretful Porpentine said...

So, in other words, the pronounced -e is the default setting, and the silent -e is the exception? Got it. (I guess I have an equally unexamined tendency to make the silent -e my default at the end of a line; as a Shakespearean, I tend to think of masculine endings as the norm for iambic pentameter and feminine ones as exceptions -- but of course there's no reason why this should be universally true.)