The Parliament of Fowls: Chaucer's Mirror up to Nature?

by Victoria Rothschild
The Parliament of Fowls: Chaucer's Mirror up to Nature?
Victoria Rothschild
The Review of English Studies
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IN the Mutabilitie Cantos, Spenser invokes the aid of his master, Dan Geffrey, for his description of the pageant of nature, referring in particular to the 'Foules' Parley'.l This is not the only testimony to the enormous popularity and influence of The Parliament of Fowls, although, as I shall argue, it is the most ~ignificant.~

In this essay I shall analyse the meaning of Chaucer's poem, and try to show how both structure and theme serve the same end. It will be seen that the form of the poem displays a species of symbolic organization which has already been noticed in certain works of Spen~er,~

and that this symbolic organization both supports and enriches a critical inter- pretation of the poem's content.

As Kent Hieatt has remarked, in his seminal work on Spenser's Epithalamion,* the unveiling of a symbolic structure may not seem an obvious sign of literary understanding to readers who expect to find a writer's meaning stated, implied, or argued for. But we cannot simply dismiss symbolic structure of the kind to which Hieatt was referring as irrelevant to a critical reading of poetry. Medieval reading habits engaged directly with allegory and symbolism; hence writers might assume that the true movement and organization of a poem need not be immediately perceivable. It was not unusual for a medieval poet to alert the reader to concealed meanings, either by oblique references and clues (cf. Guido Cavalcanti's Donna mi priega), or by publishing self-criticism and commentary.

The cases of the latter offered by the Italian proto-Renaissance concern works-the Divine Comedy and Boccaccio's Teseide-whose influence is everywhere apparent in The Parliament of fowl^.^

The Faerie Queene, Book vIr, Canto vii, verse 9. See the introduction to S. P. Zitner, The Mutabilitie Cantos (London, 1968),pp. off.

The Parliament of Fowls is directly imitated at several points in The Faerie Queene (e.g. I. i. 8-9; 11. xii. 70-1; rrr. vi. 41;IV. vi. 31;IV. x. 35; VII. vii. 4). Cf. also Dunbar's 'The Thrissil and the Rois' (11.64-77, 120-6, 176-82), the Kingis Quair (passim), Lydgate's 'Temple of Glas' and 'Floure of Courtesy', and many others.

I am especially indebted to the work of Alastair Fowler, and in particular to his Spenser and the Numbers of Time (London, I 964).

A. Kent Hieatt, Short Time's Endless Monument: The Symbolism of the Numbers in Edmund Spenser's 'Epithalamion' (New York, 1960), Ch. I.

Dante's letter to Can Grande, and Boccaccio's Chiose. The importance of these Italian writers in forming Chaucer's style has often been remarked on. See The Book of Troilus and Criseyde by Geoffrey Chaucer, ed. R. K. Root (Princeton, 1926),p. xlv, and especially R. A.

RESNew Series,Vol. XXXV, No. 138 (1984)

Chaucer was less forthcoming than his Italian mentors. His first word consists only in a title. However, if we follow up the hint which that title contains we are able to unveil a symbolic and iconographic structure in the poem that is vital to the poem's meaning.

In his Retracciouns, Chaucer calls The Parliament of Fowls 'the book of Seint Valentynes day of the Parlement of ~riddes'~

(a description matched in many manuscripts, in both title and 'Ex- plicit'). Few of the contemporary Valentine's Day poems show much resemblance to Chaucer's, but there are two notable exceptions: Grandson's Songe Sainct Valentin, which casts light on the Parliament's subject, and Chaucer's own Complaint of Mars, which partly illustrates its method.' But for illuminating comparisons of form we have to turn to later poetry, to Valentine's Day celebrations and to the nearly related epithalamia.

There are certain features which contribute both to the appeal and to the enigma of The Parliament of Fowls. One is the compelling sense of unity and harmony in the poem's form; another is its division into obscurely related parts. The division into parts is generally agreed, but how the parts constitute or contribute to the intuitive unity has not been satisfactorily accounted for.* The poem, as generally understood, is made up of a series of scenes: Scipio's dream, the gate with its conflicting inscriptions, a paradisal garden and a stifling

Pratt, 'Chaucer's Use of the Teseide', PMLA lxii (1947)~ 598-621. It would not be an exaggeration to say that The Parliament of Fowls is an exercise in the classical-sublime style. The striking resemblance to parts of the Divine Comedy has been discussed by J. A. W. Bennett, in his important work The Parliament of Fowls, an Interpretation (Oxford, 1957)~ especially

PP. 63-4. The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, ed. F. N. Robinson, 2nd edn. (London, 1957)~ p. 265. All references to Chaucer's works will be to this edition, unless otherwise stated. ' Oton de Grandson, 'Songe Sainct Valentin', in A. Piaget, Oton de Grandson, sa Vie et ses Pobies (Lausanne, 1941), pp. 309-23. The relation of this poem to The Parliament of Fowls is discussed by Haldeen Braddy in Chaucer and The French Poet Graunson (Baton Rouge, 1974)~ and by Bennett, op, cit., pp. 135ff. On the astronomy in the Complaint of Mars and elsewhere in Chaucer see J. D. North's important article, 'Kalenderes

Enlumyned Ben They. Some Astronomical Themes in Chaucer', RES NS xx (1969), 129-54, 257-83, and 418-44. For the manner of contemporary Valentine's Day poems see those by Grandson in Piaget's collection, and also Gower's Balades nos. 34 and 35 in

Complete Works, ed. G. C. Macaulay (Oxford, 1899-190~), Vol. i, and certain of the Rondeaux and Ballades of Charles d'Orl6ans (e.g. Rondeaux CCVI-cc~x, 'Rondeau par Tignonville', Ballade ~xvr) in Podsies Compl&es, ed. Charles d'Hericault (1874). See also The Parlement of Foulys, ed. D. S. Brewer, new edn. (Manchester and New York, 1972), PP. 3-7.

Some emphasize the poem's variety (e.g. Brewer, ed. cit., pp. ~gff.), others its unity (e.g.

R. 0. Payne, The Key of Remembrance (New Haven, 1963), p. 145)~ but the sense of the poem as falling into three parts is almost universal. See, for an Hegelian representation of this (as thesis, antithesis, and synthesis), Bennett, op. cit., pp. 6-7; also R. W. Frank, 'Structure and Meaning in the Parliament of Fowles', PMLA lxxi (1956), and P. M. Kean, Chaucer and the Making of English Poetry (London, 1972)~ i. 86. Miss Kean rightly emphasizes the differences of style and technique between the three sections.

temple, wanton Venus and 'facound' Nature, courtly birds and their lower counterparts, a demande d'amour, and an ambiguous resolu- tion. These scenes seem to be overlaid by three distinct 'movements', each heralded by a break in action, tone, and style. The objective, narrative tone in which Scipio's dream is recounted gives way after the invocation to Cytherea to richer, more detailed language, in keeping with the changed focus of the poem. We have moved from a dream read about in books to one that is experienced firsthand. And-at a later point-style and tone change again, to bring the dreamer to a state of wakefulness, surrounded by a dawn chorus of chattering birds. Just where the second break occurs is a matter of doubt. I shall argue that it is marked by the stanza which refers to the sun's going down 'wonder faste' (1. 490).

Underlying these general movements of the poem there are certain recurrent themes. Allusions to order and accord permeate the poem,g which also contains a dozen or more allusions to nature and naturalness, in addition to the references to the goddess Nature herself. Furthermore, there are frequent references to annual customs or to custom in general,1° and, most importantly, to the idea of time. We hear of the Platonists' Great Year (time on a cosmic scale, when all the stars return to their original positions); the narrator also refers to the day itself, both explicitly and through astrological symbolism.ll Furthermore, there are many significant allusions both to the passage of time and to time arrested.12 The birds themselves seem obsessed by time, either, in the case of the eagles, as duration (service to a lady), or, in the case of the lower birds, as immediacy (the urgency of mating).

Verbal echoes and recurrent themes run through the entire work, accompanying a self-conscious delivery which is, even for Chaucer, unusually emphatic. But the poem's significance remains obscure. Most critics would agree with the poem's author in the view that it is in some way 'about love', but whether it questions or celebrates,

Thus we hear of the harmony of the spheres, the 'welle . . . of musik' (l.62),and 'cause of armonye' (1. 63);of Nature's 'governaunce' (1. 387),and her bond of 'acord' (1. 381)over the elements, of trees 'Ech in his kynde' (I. 174),of birdscongregating by order, speakingaccording to their degree, and many more.

lo The allusions to Nature and 'kynde' occur in 11. 174, 196, 303~31 358,360,

1, 316-17,332, 365,401,434,450,457,601, As Chaucer himself says, the source of his conception of

and 615. Nature in this poem is the De Planctu Natura of Alanus de Insulis. See generally G. D. Economou, The Goddess Natura in Mediaeval Literature (Cambridge, Mass., 1972),Ch. V. Typical of the many references to custom are those in 11. I5,321,and 41I. The phrase 'fro yer to yeere' or 'yer by yeere' occurs five times.

l1 See 11.21,28,85,I 17,489-90.

On Chaucer's use of astronomical symbolism see Chauncey Wood, Chaucer and the Country of the Stars (Princeton, 1970)~

and also J. D. North, art. cit. l2 For example, 11. 173, 185, 207, 210,266, 299, 385, 661, 680.

criticizes or idealizes, is another matter. And no critic has really analysed how the poem's form (to which Chaucer apparently draws so much attention)13 serves its meaning; indeed about neither form nor content has there been any true critical consensus.14

Since Hieatt's discovery of the symbolic structure of Spenser's Epithalamion critics have uncovered a multitude of similar devices in other epithalamia, and indeed in certain sixteenth- and seventeenth- century Valentine's Day poems (the two genres clearly have much in common, one celebrating the fulfilment of love, the other love's vow). The device may be relatively simple-a fourteen-line stanza, per- haps, in the case of Donne, or the main reference to Valentine's Day occurring in the fourteenth or forty-fifth line (Valentine's Day, being the fourteenth of February, is also the forty-fifth day of the year).15 Attempts to find sources for such temporal symbolism tend not to stray much further back in time than to Spenser himself, whose use of the method, in Epithalamion at least, is unrivalled in its thorough- ness. The sources of Spenser's own devices, both in this poem and elsewhere, have yet to be found.16

Alastair Fowler has pointed to the analogy that exists between the Renaissance poet's use of number symbolism and the Pythagorean systems of proportion in Renaissance architecture, as these have been expounded by Wittkower.17 Alberti's De Re Aedificatoria (144352)-the theoretical foundation of much early Renaissance build- ing-explicitly laid bare the philosophy of number, both in its relation to music, and in its application to building. But what Alberti

l3 'as I seyde', 'to the point', and so on. See 11. 29, 35, 126, 277, 365, 372.

l4 It is impossible to summarize the critical interpretations that have been given. See Robinson's general note, ed. cit., pp. 791 -2. The poem has been seen as an expression of 'love at rest' (C. S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love (Oxford, 1936), p. 174); as social satire (D. Patrick, 'The Satire in Chaucer's Parliament', Philological Quarterly, ix (1930); as a celebration of nature (Economou, op. cit.); or of Boethian harmony (see n. 19, below); even as one of the least Boethian of all Chaucer's poems (Barnard L. Jefferson, Chaucer and the Consolation of Philosophy of Boethius (New York, 1968), p. 133).

l5 Donne's 'Epithalamium, Or marriage Song on the Lady Elizabeth, and Count Palatin being married on St. Valentine's Day', the first of his 'Epithalamions'. Cited by Fowler in Triumphal Forms. Structural Patterns in Elizabethan Poetry (Cambridge, I 970), pp. 160-1, and see Chs. 7 and 8 on temporal symbolism in general. See also Silent Poetry, ed. A. Fowler (London, I 970).

l6 Alastair Fowler, in Triumphal Forms, p. 155, suggests classical (and also early Italian Renaissance) models. Russell A. Peck has looked for a different sort of symbolism in the stanza count of certain of Chaucer's shorter poems and found none: R. A. Peck, 'Theme and Number in Chaucer's Book of the Duchess', in Fowler, Silent Poetry, pp. 73-1 15.

l7 Triumphal Forms, pp. 133ff.; R. Wittkower, Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism, 3rd edn. (London, 1962).

expounded was not of his own invention: Augustine, Boethius, Martianus Capella, and other late Latin authors write of the philosophy of number, and, as von Simson has shown,ls parallel systems of musical proportion were used (but never explained) by the architects of the Gothic cathedrals. The Renaissance man's revela- tion of the art of number turns out to be no more than a self-conscious continuation of the medieval man's immersion in it.

Certain aspects of the philosophy of number-in particular the recurrent musical allusions and the use of musical measures-have already been noticed in the P~rliarnent.~~

But the Pythagorean theory of music is not the form of the philosophy of number that best enables us to understand the poem. For in fact Chaucer applies the philosophy of number to his thought in a manner that is as direct as Spen~er's.~~

It is immediately significant, for example, that the first and main reference to Valentine's Day occurs in the forty-fifth stanza. This leads one to suspect that each stanza might in some way allude to or represent a day. If that were so, then the total number of stanzas (one hundred) might have some significance which is only secondarily related to the round number composition. The hundredth day of the year is 10April (or 9th in a leap year). Easter may fall on one or other of these days. On 10April, in Chaucer's time, the sun would be about to pass out of the sign of Aries and into Taurus;21 for Chaucer this would be a real sign of spring.22 Let us suppose that Chaucer is taking us day by day from the beginning of

lBOtto von Simson, The Gothic Cathedral (New York, 1964), pp. 2 I ff. The relevant works of Christian Neoplatonism include, of course, Boethius, De Musica and De Arithmetica, Augustine, De Musica, and Martianus Capella's compendious De Nuptiis, which was used as a textbook in the medieval schools, and in which the symbolism of numbers is given full elaboration. (See W. H. Stahl and R. Johnson, with E. L. Burge, Martianus Capella and the Seven Liberal Arts. Vol. i (Columbia, 1971)~ and Vol. ii (trans.) (Columbia, 1977).)

l8 By D. Chamberlain, in an important article, 'The Music of the Spheres and The Parlement ojFoules', Chaucer Review, No. 5 (1971).

20 The medieval use of literary number symbolism has been often documented. See especially Vincent F. Hopper, Mediaeval Number Symbolism (New York, 1938), and E. R. Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, tr. W.R. Trask (New York, 1953, first pbd. I 948). On Chaucer's use of number symbolism, see Russell A. Peck, 'Number Symbolism and the Idea of Order in the Works of Geoffrey Chaucer' (Doctoral dissertation, Dept. of English, Indiana University, 1962).

21 SeeJ. D. North, art. cit., p. 141. The sun entered Taurus on I I April. The actual date of an astronomical occurrence does not necessarily give us Chaucer's opinion as to when it occurred. It depends whether Chaucer used his astrolabe (which would take no account of leap years), and which calendar he used, and it appears that he used several. For the most part I have relied on those of Nicholas of Lynn and John Somer, since Chaucer says that he used them (Prologue to The Treatise on The Astrolabe). But see North, art. cit., passim, and also Sigmund Eisner, 'Chaucer's Use of Nicholas of Lynn's Calendar' in Essays and Studies 1976, ed. D. Talbot Donaldson (London, 1976). See also Skeat's note to the Complaint of Mars, 1. 145, in Chaucer, the Minor Poems, ed. W. W. Skeat (Oxford, 1888).

22 See, for example, the Introduction to the Man of Law's Tale (Robinson, ed. cit., pp. 62-3).

the year to early April. At once we are able to explain the refrain of the birds' roundel at the end of the poem, a refrain that would surely seem ridiculous if sung on a chill morning in February:

Now welcome, somer, with thy sonne softe,

That hast this wintres wedres overshake,

And driven away the longe nyghtes blake!

(11. 680-2)

This would support the suggestion that Chaucer intended to mirror in the movement of his stanzas the movement of time from day to day. Further examination of some of the other references to time substantiates this. There are certain stanzas which herald a new development in the narrative, which further the narrative in some way, and which contain some striking allusion to time passing. Thus, the lines 'The day gan faylen, and the derke nyght, / That reveth bestes from here besynesse' (11.85-6) mark the start of Chaucer's own dream; 'Tho was I war wher that ther sat a queene / That, as of lyght the somer sonne shene / Passeth the sterre' (11. 298-300) mark the change of location from temple to 'launde'; and the stanza in which 'dounward drow the sonne wonder faste' (1.490) marks the end of the 'gentil ple in love' (1. 485) and the beginning of the cacophony of the lower birds. The last example is especially interesting. The day alluded to must be I I March (or 10th if a leap year). The sun seems to go down 'wonder faste' (Chaucer does not use this phrase elsewhere to describe a sunset) only at the time of the equinox, when day and night are of equal length.23 In Chaucer's time the vernal equinox, the passage of the sun from Pisces into the first point of Aries, would have occurred on I I March. The other stanzas mentioned would refer respectively to 13 January and 12 February and these are both dates on which the sun would be passing from one zodiacal sign to another. The phrase 'That reveth bestes from here besynesse' then would take on a new meaning, as an allusion to the passage of the sun out of the sign of the beast (Capricorn) and into that of Aquarius. Similarly, the proverbial expression 'somer sonne shene passeth the ~terre'~*

could be read as a pun, a veiled allusion to the passing of the spring sun into a new sign, from Aquarius to Pisces. Not only does the progression of stanzas correspond to that of days but certain significant days, besides Valentine's Day itself, are being picked out for the reader's attention. The poem thus contains a mirror of time passing;

23 For this information I am indebted to Dr D. Dewhirst of the Cambridge Institute of Astronomy, who also confirms my interpretation of the other dates alluded to.

24 On the proverbial nature of this expression (in which 'passeth' means 'surpasseth'), see Brewer, ed. cit., p. I 13 and Robinson, ed. cit., p. 794.

underlying the narrative itself there is a subliminal movement which takes us from the beginning of the year to spring. Whether Easter is referred to remains in question. It could be argued that the joyful, triumphal song to a new season would be enhanced all the more for Chaucer's audience if the time scale led also to Easter, season of man's rebirth and regeneration. For the moment, let this remain a speculation.

The poem has three sections. It begins in one mood, with the description of something read, proceeds through a dream sequence, and ends with a dawn chorus as the sleeper wakes. But where do the breaks occur? In the case of the second division this question is not easy to answer, for the break occurs during the description of a dream, and the progression towards wakefulness is gradual, taking definite direction only with the rude cacophony of the lower birds. It might be suggested that the second break occurs with the narrator's emergence from the temple of Venus, since there is here a change of scene. A closer reading must surely persuade us that this is not so. The restrained, courtly tone of the eagles and of Nature belongs with the evocation that has preceded it and not with the loud tones of the succeeding 'parliament'. If we are to be guided by atmosphere and natural affinity (which are surer guides to subliminal meaning than the poem's disjointed narrative), then we ought to locate the division between the second and third sections at lines 484-90 (stanza 70), a stanza which partly stands out from the narrative in the manner of the invocation of Cytherea, and which seems to provide a deliberate pause, heralding the babble of the lower birds.

In that case we find that each of the three sections of the poem, thus marked, has an identity and atmosphere of its own, and stands separated by a frame of self-reflection. The first section is sublime and philosophical; it has the static quality appropriate to the presentation of abstract thought (and appropriate, too, to the mood of winter). An idea is presented, but nothing moves. The second section is magical, dignified, and courtly, offering us noble drama in quiet words. Things move, but as it were vastly and slowly. The tone of abstract thought to some extent remains, so that everything des- cribed seems to have the force of a symbol. The third section is low, humorous, and lively, moving in a rapid and jerky manner towards its culmination, in the cheerful chorus that finally dispels the atmos- phere of the dream and returns the narrator to the reflections which first inspired him.

Confirmation of this division comes when we notice the peculiar and arresting way in which the 'framing' stanzas stand out. The poem contains no proper transitions of a narrative or dramatic kind; it is interrupted by certain stanzas which change the tone and theme, and which add nothing to the narrative, looking neither backwards nor forwards. These stanzas contain, in addition, a note of reflection. That is to say, the narrator mentions himself and his own state of mind, but not as a participant in the action-rather as something wholly outside it, as an observer from another world. The first four stanzas and the last perfectly exemplify this ponderous, self-referential note. The whole action seems framed by five stanzas con- centrating on the narrator's present condition; their tone and style force us to consider them as adjuncts to the narrative proper rather than as integral parts of it. There are two other such stanzas, each marking the division between successive sections as I have inter- preted it. The first contains the problematic invocation of Cytherea:

Cytherea! thow blysful lady swete,

That with thy fyrbrond dauntest whom the lest,

And madest me this sweven for to mete,

Be thow myn helpe in this, for thow mayst best!

As wisly as I sey the north-north-west,

Whan I began my sweven for to write,

So yif me myght to ryme and ek t'endyte!

(11. 113-19)

This stanza seems peculiarly static; it also obviously marks a break: before it was a vision derived from reading, afterwards a vision derived from experience. Finally, these elements of self-reflection reappear in stanza 70, in which the sun goes down 'wonder faste':

Of a1 my lyf, syn that day I was born,

So gentil ple in love or other thyng

Ne herde nevere no man me beforn,

Who that hadde leyser and connyng

For to reherse hire chere and hire spekyng;

(11. 484-8)

The break here is not quite so complete as the one just described since Chaucer attempts, while effecting one of his abrupt changes of atmosphere, to keep our attention on the narrative. He does not stand back from his dream as completely as in the Cytherea stanza. Nevertheless, the stanza heralds as great a change in mood as that which accompanied the transition from authoritative to experienced dream. It is here that the debate changes from the restrained tones of the courtly birds to the raucous cacophony of the lower orders. Once again, therefore, we have a stanza which, while it partly furthers the narrative of the poem, principally serves to arrest and redirect its movement.

It seems then that we have isolated the frame which divides the poem into parts. It is of the greatest interest to note that the three sections exactly mirror the descending divisions of time: from month to week to day. The first contains twelve stanzas, the second fifty- two, and the third twenty-nine. But the logical sequence of this count (from large temporal divisions to small) is consistent with a symbolic intention only if the division into days (which clearly and appro- priately alludes to February) is meant to indicate February in a leap year. The explanation of this fact is one to which I shall return. But does this significant stanza count enrich or reinforce a meaning already present and independently identifiable?

In the beginning we hear an account of the Somnium Scipionis in which certain features are picked out for particular emphasis: there are seven chapters, Chaucer tells us (there are, in fact, nine), and he allots a stanza to each, alerting the reader to his careful composition- 'Of whiche . . . I wol yow seyn the greete' (11.34-5). And then, in this seven-stanza nutshell, he presents the entire Neoplatonic cosmology: the music of the spheres, the Great Year, the potential immortality of man, the place of 'this litel spot of erthe' (Troilus and Criseyde, v. 18I 5) in the universal system, the ultimate harmony of the divinely governed cosmos.

Chaucer then goes to considerable trouble to establish a connection between what he has read and what he is to dream: he gives us a stanza on the relation of dreams to some desire of the waking mind;25 and he presents us with a common guide, Scipio Africanus. There are also many phrases in his own dream that conspicuously echo those in Scipio's-notice especially the introductory stanza to each (11. 29,35, 126). But, he says, something that he did not learn from his cosmic vision has yet to be discovered, and the assurance of a link between the two visions implies that it will be. What was lacking, of course, in the account of Scipio's dream is first-hand experience of this cosmic order-this 'Love in dede' (1. 8)-of the principle of harmony in action on 'the lytel erthe that here is' (1. 57). It is just this that we are to witness in Chaucer's own vision.

The locus amoenus in which the dream opens is unquestionably paradisalZ6 and it is indicated plainly that we should connect this garden with the 'blysful place' (1. 127) mentioned. Here we may rightly expect to find the earthly realization of universal harmony that was promised us. But for the moment let us turn our attention to

25 Chaucer's explanation suggests to Robinson (ed. cit., p. 793) a 'sornniurn anirnale', although it is a 'sornnium coeleste' which follows. See Macrobius, Commentary on the Dream of Scipio, tr. with introd. and notes by W. H. Stahl (London and New York, 1952), pp. 87-92.

20 Cf. Bennett, op. cit., pp. 62ff.

Nature's parliament, a congregation of birds come together to celebrate Valentine's Day according to natural God-given law. (Nature is the 'vicaire of the almyghty Lord' (1. 379); she is his agent, the means by which this law of love may be put into action on earth.) All this should be perfectly in keeping with the expectations aroused: celebration, through custom and ceremony, according to the natural law, and of love in particular, is in itself a mode of participation in this divine order. To engage either in custom or in ceremony is in some way to participate deeply in the movement of time, so that the particular moment becomes imbued with a universal meaning. The joyous ending of birdsong certainly suggests that just such a participation has been undergone. Why is it, then, that the eagles put off their decision to mate for a year, while under Nature's

'governaunce' all the other birds happily take their mates and fly away? To understand why there are these two endings, why both are resolutions, and why both fulfil the expectation of seeing 'Love in dede' (in its widest Boethian sense) we must examine closely the way in which the two sorts of birds are represented.

Nature, we find, behaves quite differently to the different groups. The eagles, of whom she is most proud, whom she need not describe to us, who have ranks among themselves, are under her 'statute'. The other birds, who speak only of the 'gentil' debate-for there is no problem about their own mating-who speak only as species, not as do the eagles as individuals, who 'kek' and crow fit to bring the wood down, are under her 'governaunce'. To the gentle birds Nature gives the right to perform their mating ritual according to their own will; on the others, telling them only from time to time to be quiet, she imposes her will-it is by her 'governaunce' that they can fly off happily for their annual mating, as they do from year to year, in accordance with seasonal change; and it is by her 'statute', on the other hand, that the formel can put off her decision to mate for a year (which, significantly, 'is nat so longe to endure' (1. 661)) without breaking Nature's law. Nature's law, then, must be different for the two sorts of bird. The one group have their own 'choys a1 fre' (1.649), choose 'with wil, and herte, and thought' (1. 417), and can be counselled by reason (11. 63 I ff.). They speak of 'skilles', 'arguments', of long service to the lady, of troth, of virtue, and of shame. The implications of putting off the decision for that not very long year, of placing their mating outside the annual cycle, is that when they finally do mate it will be forever ('I wol nat serve Venus ne Cupide, / Forsothe as yit' (11. 652-3)). The other birds, whose mating practices are dictated by natural annual custom, naturally mate this year as they will next.

Many critics have construed the end of The Parliament of Fowls as a kind of social satire, the different orders of the birds corresponding in some undefined way to the different orders of ~ociety.~' Such an interpretation would be natural were the birds to be treated only as species, as in most of the earlier 'parliaments'. In fact, there is a clear division between those which are so treated, and those which are accorded individuality and will. It would be uncharacteristic of Chaucer to believe that Nature is so different to different classes of society. As the Canterbury Tales amply demonstrate, all classes of society are made up of individuals, and it is absurd to suppose that, while the lower orders of society mate in some cheerful, bestial way from year to year, those at court cultivate the finer arts of chastity and troth. But what Chaucer could demonstrate in all seriousness is what Grandson in his way also tried to show: that Nature does behave in this radically different way to different classes of creature:

Amour est chouse naturelle,

Mais elle ne sera ja telle,

Si loial ne si bien servie,

Ne tant a son droit assouvye,

Entre les oyseaulx et les bestez

Qui n'ont point de sens en leurz testez,

Et ne doubtent paour ne honte,

Et de dongier ne tiennent compte,

Mais vivent sans entendement.

L'amour dez gens est aultrement.

Gens ont le sens cler et loval

Pour congnoistre le bien du mal,

Et si savent, par voye bonne,

Garder le bien quant Dieu leur donne,

Et, se le ma1 leur fault souffrir.

Aussy le sevent ilz couvrir

Et porter en humilite.

Quant gent ont mal, c'est grant pitie.

Tant de biens vueil a cellez gens

Qui, en amer, usent leur temps . . .

('Songe Sainct Valentin', 11. 340-59)

To one class of creature she gives will, reason, and individuality, the right to make an advised choice, to abstain from natural impulses, or to make a permanently binding match. On another she imposes her will just as she does on seasonal and annual cycles of time. The hierarchy described, then, is not social, but natural; the higher class

27 This interpretation is clearly appropriate to some of the earlier parliaments, and notably to Le Fable1 dou Dieu d'Amors, and it is partly this which encourages Brewer to adopt it (ed, cit., p. 34). See also A. C. Spearing, Mediaeval Dream Poetry (Cambridge, 1976), p. 97.

of creature, the class most like Nature herself, is man; and the others, the rabble, do not represent the lower masses of society, but rather the lower orders of creature-all creatures, that is, to whom Nature has not given a will of their own. And clearly this is why the eagles, who in any case have ranks among themselves (as they do in Grandson), speak as individuals, who 'know [themselves] first immortal' (1. 73) (that is, have knowledge of the self, of eternity, and of their own aspiration towards that perfection from whence they came), while the others speak only as species, bound by the succession of time. The allegory of the Parliament is not one of social satire, but rather one which shows the difference (revealed in the contrast between choosing a 'formel' and taking a 'make', between marriage and mating, 'statute' and 'governaunce', and between the two sorts of 'usage-what for lust and what for lore' (1. 15)) between rational, 'immortal', and self-conscious man, and irrational unthink- ing beasts. The second of these belongs only in time, while the first resides in that realm of shifting spheres, between time and eternity.

The two resolutions of the two classes of animal are completely in keeping with their two 'natures': man, allegorized by the eagles (who, as in the bestiaries of Chaucer's timezs have the ability to look into the light of the sun, aspiring, that is, towards Heaven and eternity), looks forward to the permanently binding knot of matrimony; while the other beasts are allowed by Nature to mate according to annual custom this year and next in a continuous cycle. No one goes against Nature's decree; both groups fulfil it in whichever way is most natural for them. The joyous praise of natural order is an appropriate end to such a scene.

To read the allegory in this way would show that there is indeed a 'descending' order in the poem's focus. We have, in the first place, seen a vision of the cosmos bound by harmonious order, the 'faire cheyne of love' (Knight's Tale, 1. 2988); then man fulfils his ideal place in this order by obedience to Nature's 'statute'; and, finally, the animals, under Nature's 'governaunce', fulfil their place of necessity. Macrobius's three elemental bondsz9 are thus shown knitting the entire universe by 'evene noumbres of acord' (1. 381). And corres- pondingly time also is seen in all its aspects to serve this order which

28 In fact the bestiaries seem to vary between the opinion that eagles fly closest of all birds to the sun ('unto the circle of the sun': The Book of Beasts, ed. and tr. T.H. White (London, 1954)~

p. 105, and cf. the falcons in Grandson), and the opinion that they are uniquely able to stare into the light of the sun (see Isidore's etymology, quoted by Robinson, ed. cit., p. 795, and also, for example, Bartholomew Anglicus (Robert Steele, Mediaeval Lore from Bartholomew Anglicus (New York, 1966), p. I 19). In either case the allegorical significance remains the same. The second opinion is used by Dante in the construction of a direct Neoplatonic analogy, Paradiso, Canto i, 1.48. 2B See Macrobius, Commentary, I. vi. 36-40.

permeates and embraces all of creation. The cosmic harmony is revealed at first from outside, from the timeless stance of Scipio's dream, the realm of eternity. But for rational, 'immortal' man the problem is that, while he yearns to be joined to that realm (knows himselffirst immortal), he himself is in time, not outside it, and the rule of time is not eternity but continuance. Continuance is what is exhibited by the lower birds, who behave according to custom, bound by time from year to year, who are conscious neither of past, nor future, nor self, but only of the present impulse. But between this mere temporal succession and the eternity of divine love is the realm of rational love, exhibited by the eagles, in which change is transformed to permanence, and the movement of time partially transcended through ceremonial enactment. It is in that realm-the realm of permanence-that self, reason, and will reside, where 'qui bien aime a tard ~ublie',~O

and it is these, natural gifts to man, which enable him to achieve, through love, the knowledge of his own immortality. By binding himself for ever, and of his own free will, he engages in that ceremonial enactment which, for him, is 'the point of intersection of the timeless with time'.

Thus our original sense of where the divisions fall is supported, not only by the temporal symbolism which we described, but also by a satisfactory account of the poem's meaning, as a Boethian allegory of love, and a representation of Nature, vinculum m~ndi.~l

Our account shows precisely why the eagles should be so separated from the lower birds and begins to explain the prevailing atmosphere of ambiguity in the middle section of the poem. On such a reading it becomes imperative to provide a coherent interpretation of the temple scene, and to show its relation to what precedes and follows it. In particular, we must show why the vision of the temple should belong to the same dream as do the deliberating eagles, the dream from which the intrusions of the lower birds finally awaken the poet.

At first reading, the temple scene seems to present a concupiscent voyeur's paradise, and its atmosphere seems to be at variance with the clear, unadulterated harmony which is celebrated in the rest of the poem. It has long been recognized that much of this sequence is a fairly close translation of part of Boccaccio's Teseide, and it has also been seen that Chaucer has made several significant changes.32 First, instead of culminating with the description of Venus, as does the

30 This phrase-which is a French proverb-occurs in some manuscripts at the beginning of the roundel. Skeat argues that it is the name of the tune to which the roundel should be sung: see ed. cit., p. 308. See also Robinson, ed. cit., p. 796, and Brewer, ed. cit., p. 127.

3' The phrase is from Alanus de Insulis, De Planctu Natura, 1. 2 of the invocatory ode.

32 See Robinson's note to 11. 183-294, ed. cit., p. 794, and also Brewer, ed. cit., p. 44 and Appendix IV, and R. A. Pratt, art. cit.

source, the section ends with the list of lovers, the reference to Venus being framed by this and the personified figures. Chaucer has also changed the number of the personifications, both inside and outside the temple, and draws attention to this fact.33 He has expanded the reference to Priapus from two to four lines and added certain details: Priapus is now a god, with a sceptre in his hand, who stands in sovereign place (as opposed to the merely prominent position allotted to him by Boccaccio); men garland him with flowers ('of sondry hewe'), rather than the temple, and they do so 'ful besyly'. And the temple itself has 'pilers greete of jasper longe' (1. 230), and is made not of copper, but of 'bras ifounded stronge' (1. 231). Venus lies, not on a great bed but on a bed of gold 'Ti1 that the hote sonne gan to weste' (1.266) and is covered not with any particular 'veste' but with a 'subtyl coverchef of Valence' (1. 272). These changes, taken together with the general atmosphere of the passage, render the identity of the temple uncertain. It is important that not once does Chaucer call it- as Boccaccio had called it-the temple of Venus.

J. D. North has pointed to the astrological puns with which the temple scene abounds.34 Indeed, in the first instance, the scene could be read as an astrological allegory (as, indeed, is Chaucer's other Valentine's Day poem, The Complaint of Mars).35 Chaucer could represent the day (14February) by astrological means in two ways: either by referring to the position of the sun on the given date, as in the opening of the General Prologue, or by describing the sky at night, as in The Complaint of Mars. In fact in the Parliament he does both: that is, he describes in astrological terms both the day and night of Valentine's Day, and he does this in the combined temple and garden sequence.

When the sun is in a particular sign, you cannot see that sign, nor the five around it, but rather the sign which is exactly opposite to it. The simplest astrological way to describe the sky at night (and, incidentally, the way used by Dante),36 is to describe the sign of the zodiac which is directly opposite to the sign of the sun. Should we look for references to Virgo in the temple sequence?

Ptolemy, in the tetra bib lo^,^' tells us that in Virgo, far from being exalted as she is in Pisces, Venus is in her dejection or detrimentum;

33 He emphasizes that there are 'other thre' (1.228) outside the temple, and extra 'two yonge folke' (1. 278) inside. See also 11. 223, 277, 285-7.

34 In a cornerlat an angle; sovereign place; temple, domicile, or 'house'; and so on.

35 North, art. cit., pp. 270-4.

36 See M. A. Orr, Dante and the Early Astronomers (London, 1913; rev. edn. 1956), esp.

Ch. 5. Also E. Moore, 'The Astronomy of Dante' in Studies in Dante, 3rd Ser. (Oxford, 1903). 37 See Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos,ed. F. E. Robbins (Cambridge, Mass., and London, ~goq), Bk. i. 17, 19.

and that the planetary god whose exaltation is Virgo, whose solar 'house' this is (who, in other words, would be in 'sovereign place' in his 'temple') is Mercury. In The Complaint of Mars-a poem which has many important features in common with the Parliament (notice, for one thing, the reference to the actual occurrence of Valentine's Day is in the fourteenth line)-there is a phrase concerning the planetary Venus which is strikingly similar to the description of her here. There, Chaucer refers to a particular sign of the zodiac as being 'Venus valaunse' (1. 145),and Skeat has suggested that this term derives from the Old French word 'faillance', a technical term meaning the dejection or detrimentum of a planet.38 There are a number of alternative spellings of the word, but no other known use.39 Chaucer is perhaps making another astrological pun on the word 'valence', using it to mean both a (very) subtle piece of cloth and the astrological condition of the planet Venus when in Virgo, namely in dejection. Then Priapus, the god who is in sovereign place, must be associated with Mercury. There is precedent for such an identification: like Priapus, Mercury was often depicted presiding over gardens of Harmony, Concord, and Pleasure; like Priapus too, he was associated with fertility and generation, and, indeed, has sometimes been seen as Priapus's father.40 In addition to this association of ideas, Chaucer has added certain details to the description of Priapus which enforce this identification: to begin with, Priapus was not a god; men are seen garlanding him (and Mercury is usually garlanded), the garlands are of 'sondry hewe', another attribute of Mercury.*l Priapus was no king and so would not hold a sceptre; this is clearly meant,bn one level, to be a bawdy joke, but it could also refer to the caduceus by which Mercury is always

38 See Skeat, ed. cit., pp. 279-81. 38 The OED gives only two instances of the word 'valence', this one and another from Lydgate's 'Horns Away' (where it had clearly been borrowed from the Parliament).

40 The association of Priapus and Mercury in medieval iconology is pervasive and subtle, and not confined merely to the story of the former's conception. See, for example, the many separate accounts of Mercury in Boccaccio's Genealogiae Deorum (Venice, 1494), a book that Chaucer may possibly have read. On the general associations of Priapus and Mercury, see Edgar Wind, Bellini's Feast of the Gods (Cambridge, Mass., 1948),esp. pp. 12-13 and pp. 28-35. The story of Priapus is in Ovid, Fasti, i. 391 ff., vi. 3 ~gff.

Both Priapus and Mercury are guardians of gardens (see, e.g., The Merchant's Tale, 1.2035), and both have a phallic aspect (see

H. Herter, De Priapo (Giessen, rglz),pp. gff.,and Macrobius, The Saturnalia, i. 19(tr. and ed.

P. V. Davies (New York and London, 1969),pp. 135ff.).And especially see Fowler, Spenser and the Numbers of Time, pp. I 56-91, on Mercury as the presiding deity of Bk. IVof The Faerie Queene, where the influence of The Parliament of Fowls is often apparent. Also, in general, Wind's Pagan Mysteries in The Renaissance (London, 1958)and The Survival of the Pagan Gods (Princeton, 1953)by the late Jean Seznec.

41 They do so 'ful besyly', thus sharing the mercurial quality of the god in whose temple they worship (this phrase is associated with Mercury in both the Canon's Yeoman's Tale and Anelide and Arcite). See also Tetrabiblos,ii. 9 and Martianus Capella, De Nuptiis, Vol. 2, i. 12, 14, 23.

identified and which, elsewhere in Chaucer, is simply called 'rod'. The association of Priapus with Mercury is further confirmed by the omission of any reference to Ve~ta,~~

by which omission Priapus is deprived of any story or identity of his own. That Venus lies on her bed of gold 'Ti1 that the hote sonne gan to weste' would then allude to the planetary Venus waiting in detrimenturn until the summer (hote) sun goes down again, when she would be seen once more in her exaltation.

We noticed earlier that Chaucer has changed the position and number of represented characters, both inside and on the threshold of the temple. Also that he has drawn attention, albeit subtly, to the number of these personages (11s. 228, 277, 287, 293). Outside the temple there are eighteen persons represented, on the doorstep four, and inside, twenty-six. According to the Ptolemaic catalogue of constellations, the number of visible stars in Virgo is twenty-six (no other sign contains this number), the only sign to contain eighteen visible stars is Gemini, and none has Mercury, like the other planets, except for the sun and moon, governs two astrological 'houses', one of them, as we have seen, being Virgo, and the other Gemini. He is also, as the god of concord and harmony, associated with the number 4,44 and especially that particular harmony that comes, according to the philosophy of number, from the uniting of two pairs (hence the symbolism of the caduceus) as takes place here. It is clear then what these three numbers signified for Chaucer.

So the identity of the god in whose temple we find ourselves is Mercury, not Venus who is in her 'valance', nor, as North suggests,45 Jupiter. Jupiter does not figure at all, since Chaucer is concerned not with astronomical accuracy, but with astrological allegory. Of course it is appropriate to have Mercury, god of gardens, concord, and harmony, presiding over the paradisal Valentine's Day scene. Moreover, in his role as psychopomp, Mercury had a vital place in the mythological cosmology, being the guide from one sphere to another. It is this movement between the spheres that is enacted in the middle section of the Parliament, which passes from a vision of harmony on a cosmic scale to an earthly realization of the same. But this cannot be all that is meant by the allusion to Mercury. Iconographically the temple scene simply symbolizes the sky at night

42 Boccaccio, La Teseide, ed. Salvatore Battaglia (Florence, 1938), vii, stanza 60,l. 257, 'piu pigro desto Vesta, che 'n calere / Non poco gli era. . .'. 43 See Fowler, Spenser and the Numbers of Time,pp. I rqff., for the original interpretation of Spenser's use of astronomical numbers. Ptolemy's catalogue is in Books vii and viii of the


44 See Macrobius, Saturnalia, i. 19, and Martianus Capella, De Nuptiis, Vol. 2, ii. 106,734.

45 J. D. North, art. cit., pp. 270-9.

on Valentine's Day. (And we note that Chaucer takes exactly twelve stanzas to do this, representing the twelve unequal hours into which the night was divided.) But critically we cannot ignore the wider significance of Mercury, who becomes the symbol of movement between the spheres, and hence the symbol of the freedom enacted by the eagles. It is this which explains the ambivalence, the opposition between joy and jealousy, between pleasure and pain, between the day and night of love, that is presented in the middle section. Here is the mercurial realm, the realm of freedom, and it is only in Nature's 'statute' that this freedom is resolved.

The point is further illustrated if we return to the garden: more reminiscent of Apollo's grove in De Nuptii~~~

than of the Teseide, it represents, in its turn, an idealized allegory of the Day of St Valentine. As in the passage from Martianus, cosmic harmony is translated into its earthly reality. Again, in twelve stanzas, for the twelve unequal hours of day, Chaucer shows us paradise, the melody of the spheres realized 'In this world here'. In the garden it is 'ay cler day', whereas in the temple it is dark, night, and light 'unnethe it myghte be lesse' (1. 264). (Notice that the identical phrase is used in the garden scene (1.201), but nowhere else in Chaucer; clearly we are meant to see the symmetry between the scenes.) In addition to the harmonious bird-song, the gentle wind, clear light, and soothing air of the place, Chaucer stresses greenness, and green stone in particular-the park is walled with it, the trees are like emerald, the temple is on pillars of jasper. From Martianus Capella or Alain de Lille (the zodiacal crowns of Sol and of Nature4') he could have introduced these green gems as emblems of Pisces, the sign he would wish to depict in his description of the day. Similarly, the additional detail of red and white scaled fishes lends further iconographic support to the astrological symbolism. (Fishes obviously suggest Pisces, and red and white are the colours associated with Venus whose exaltation would be in this sign.**) The whole 24-stanza sequence is introduced by lines which noticeably echo those used to introduce the 7-stanza dream of Scipio (compare 11. 29 and 120; 35 and 126), where Chaucer was similarly alerting us to his careful composition.

The double inscriptions at the gate are so dwelt upon that we must turn to them again. The inscription of 'eyther half, of ful gret difference' (1. 125) leads indeed to two scenes of great difference, for

46 Martianus Capella, De Nuptiis, Vol. 2, i. I I.
47 Ibid. 75; Alanus, De Planctu Natura, Prosa 1.
48 See the House of Fame, 11. 130-9, ed. Robinson, p. 283, and Bennett's discussion, op. cit.,

p. 81.

what could be more different than day and night? One is in gold (for sunlight) and the other black (for night). One promises greenness and lasting May; the other 'the mortal strokes of the spere' (1. I 35). That the first promises something that is then fulfilled is self-evident, but problems arise in interpreting the second. The curious phrase 'There as the fish in prysoun is a1 drye' (1. 139) might be construed as an allusion to the subsequent astrological allegory of night, where Venus/Pisces are indeed 'in prison', or in 'detrimenturn'; the stream (and there is no stream) to the milky way; the guides, Disdayn and Daunger, could refer to the astrological passage, where personifica- tions are, in a sense, the main guides; and can there not also be a pun on 'spere'? Chaucer makes much of the difference: one makes him hot, the other cold; he is torn like iron between two magnets (poles?); but, significantly, there is, at this stage of the poem, no choice involved. Africanus pushes him through and tells him plainly that he has only to watch, to see, and clearly this is all he can do (apart from 'wryte' and 'endite') since what he then sees is an idealized day and night of Valen- tine's Day. Choice is symbolized, but not enacted. The temple of brass 'ifounded stronge' supported on great pillars of jasper is not a temple which is to be associated emblematically with the deity we find within, for neither brass nor jasper is associated with Mercury, nor, indeed, with any specific planetary god. Rather it is a symbolic representation of a specific day and night, of the earth and sky on Valentine's Day; the jasper pillars, like the green stone walls surrounding this micro- cosmic park, are emblematically associated with the day when the sun is in Pisces, and the strongly founded temple above is simply the firmament that Chaucer then goes on to symbolize.49

It is clear how all this fits in with the Boethian interpretation suggested. By choosing astrological allegory Chaucer has of necessity represented the day of St Valentine in terms of the movement of the spheres. At the same time, through the subtle allusions to Mercury, he has represented the idea of movement between the spheres, the idea of the ascent and descent of the soul. Hence he has allegorized the two aspects of love between which man must choose. Valentine's Day, being the day upon which the bond of love is chosen, itself symbolizes the choice which for free beings lies at the heart of erotic love: it is therefore logical that in this realm of freedom the poet should encounter Nature herself, displaying the 'statute' of choice in its final enactment.50

48 The specific association of jasper is of course with the wall of the Heavenly City: Rev.

21: 18.

50 It is clear, then, how such a Boethian interpretation might accommodate the great choice of love as this is represented, for example, in Boccaccio's Amorosa Visione (the choice which

From a vision of time in its cosmic aspect, we descend to 'this world here' and see, first, the means of making visible (through day and night) that universal order we had read about in books. We find that the microcosm of the world is both realized and idealized in the temporal nature of its expression. Time is represented in a form that carries an intimation of eternity, as the depiction of time's movement in the images of the sky contains an intimation of the unchanging order of the spheres. All parts of the poem thus serve the same end, to express a profound belief in, and enactment of, an ideal vision of the universe. That vision is the one to which Chaucer expressly points us by the authorities he has chosen to name, Macrobius and Alain de Lille, and it is the one to which he refers el~ewhere.~~

It is the Boethian and Neoplatonic world view, of a universe governed ultimately by Divine Love, whose principle is Order.52 In the Parliament we witness the 'faire cheyne of love' in all its manifesta- tions, from universal to particular, from heaven to earth, enacted by God, man, and beasts. The narrator, who knew not 'Love in dede', has indeed seen love in action by the end of the poem; and his senses, namely his sense of the omnipresence of love, have been quickened again. His final note of ponderance, his desire to go on that he may 'fare / The bet' is a projection into the future, an expression of his desire and his intention to put into action the ideal that he has been granted a glimpse of-to become one of the 'weleful mankynde' to whom Lady Philosophy extends her blessing. The narrator has indeed seen love; it remains only for him to do. At the start of the poem, he reflects on past time and at the end he looks forward to time future. During the course of the poem he has himself been subject to time, passing from a day remembered, through evening and night (in the location of Venus 'north-north-west'-the only direct astro- nomical reference) to the dawning of a new day at the end. Thus the time scale of the narrator, by projecting itself beyond the idealized microcosm that is captured in his poem, locates that timeless point in time itself. His memory at the beginning and his hope at the end thus provide the means of reaching the timelessness of the poem itself; time past and time future point to one end: the eternal present that Chaucer seeks to enact in the form and movement of his poem.

begins, at the end of Canto I 1, with a choice between gates). See R. Hollander, Boccaccio's Two Venuses (New York, 1977).

j1 For example, at the beginning of Troilus and Criseyde, iii, and in the famous Boethian verses from the Knight's Tale, 11. 2987ff.

52 See Chaucer's way of expressing this in Boece, ii, m. 8.

It is perhaps worth considering a less important difficulty that scholars have encountered, the difficulty of dating The Parliament of Fowls. One of North's suggestions (based on the astronomical reference to the position of Venus, north-north-west) is that the poem was composed in I 384(a date which external evidence would indicate to be perfectly possible).53 But he goes on to reject the suggestion, in favour of a later date, basing his rejection on another reading of the temple passage as literal astronomical observation. I suggest, therefore, that North's original dating be reconsidered. For not only was 1384a leap year-thus corresponding to one of our numerological findings-it was also a year in which Easter occurred on the hundredth day. This year would have been fittingly celebrated in a poem which leads us into spring precisely in its hundredth stanza, and at the same time celebrates the divine order of love of which Easter is itself the most potent ceremonial enactment. And between I 370and 1400there was no other year which contained both the features we have mentioned. The theory is tentative: its truth or falsehood is of course irrelevant to the poem's meaning.

Whether or not we find Chaucer's symbolism successful it is clearly this aspect of the poem that was the most influential on Chaucer's great disciple. In the Mutabilitie Cantos, the procession that appears initially on Mutability's behalf consists of the divisions of time: day and night, months, seasons, and hours are all present. Nature once again resolves the case by proving incontestably that the orderly procession of time-far from being a manifestation of instability-is simply one further example of the stability of all things. In Epithalamion Spenser alludes to time passing, annually, diurnally, and cosmically, in the symbolic form of his verse. And in a hymn to marriage there is good reason for so doing. By creating of his own poem a mirror of natural order, Spenser also encapsulates and enacts that order, just as his subject, the ceremony of marriage, performs the same function for man. By engaging in the ceremony, the moment in time when time is transcended, the individual may partake of the universal. And because of what it celebrates-love and permanence, the nearest living man can get to the Divine and the

53 North (art. cit., pp. 273-4)favours 1393as the date of composition because of the more remarkable configuration of planets in that year. Needless to say, critics are divided on the issue, some thinking with North and Robinson (ed. cit., p. 309)that the poem is a late work, others with F. W. Bateson (A Guide to English Literature (London, 1965),p. 23)that it belongs to a relatively immature phase of Chaucer's writing. Among precise dates offered are 1374and 1382(relying on the extremely enigmatic reference to Venus in 11. I 17-18;see Brewer, ed. cit., pp. 2 and 104).In favour of the latter date there is the possibility that the Parliament was conceived as part of the St Valentine's Day celebrations in the year (1382)of Richard 11's marriage: see A. C. Spearing, op. cit., p. 95.

Eternal-the ceremony of marriage becomes a passage to the timeless from time, and a paradigm of cosmic order.54 At the same time it is the perfect expression of human choice. In both the Mutabilitie Cantos and Epithalamion, Spenser celebrates a victory over time, the transcendence of time in time and through time. And both poems are indebted to Chaucer's Parliament: the one invoking it directly, the other elaborating its symbolic method.

The Parliament of Fowls, a Valentine's Day poem, is in a sense a universal epithalamium, in which not only man, but the entire natural world participates. By custom one engages in time; by ceremony one transcends it. Whether by mating in accordance with seasonal change or by marriage, all living creatures are shown to enact the same cosmic principle. Chaucer builds into the very fabric of his verse a mirror of nature, of the movement of time itself- creates, that is, of his Valentine's celebration an 'endlesse moniment' to 'short time'.55

54 This interpretation of the significance of ceremony has been upheld by P. M. Kean, Chaucer and the Making of English Poetry (London, 1972),ii. 48ff. It is echoed in Grandson (op. cit., 1. 123),and in much modern poetry, most importantly in Four Quartets, a poem remarkable for its many echoes of the Boethian view of time.

55 A previous version of this paper was delivered to the Cambridge Medieval Society in Spring 1978,and I am grateful to criticisms there offered, particularly to those from Dr Barry Windeatt. I am also grateful to Dr G. C. Britton, for useful criticisms of an earlier draft, and to Paula Neuss and Roger Scruton for invaluable assistance in preparing the final version.

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