Now tender April with her showers sweet
Has chased the dogs of winter in retreat,
And small birds serenade throughout Our lands.
Now we, A’kos and Bella, by our hands
These patents of nobility indite
And do ennoble through our sovereign might
Our subject, hight Peter Grau von Bremen,
Unto our Order of the Pelican.
For e’er with troth the Kingdom he hath served,
And of the Crown this merit well deserved.
His deadly blade borne with humility,
His gentilesse and eke his courtesy
Proclaim a man of true and tried vertu—
As he hath done, so all should strive to do.
Among his noble peers now let him stand,
A veritable parfit gentleman.
indite: write; compose
gentilesse: refinement, nobility
veritable: verifiable, provable
When Peter Grau von Bremen, Master of Defense, offered me a writing commission for his Pelican scroll, my first thought was, “But then what will I do with the poem I already wrote you?!” An instant’s reflection, however, and I realized that, first, the vigil poem could still be given at the vigil, and second, I really wanted to do it.
I accepted at once. He offered cash payment; we settled on a trade. I have his promise to fight for me in a tourney, something I’ve long wanted to experience in the SCA.
My friend Dame Heather Hall had already signed on to do the calligraphy and illumination, so that was an added benefit; I was excited to collaborate with Heather.
Peter did two things that, all unbeknownst, helped me tremendously. He held his vigil and elevation at two different events, solving my I-have-an-extra-poem problem. Then he announced that he would adopt 14th-century style for his elevation, helping me to choose my poetic model. It wasn’t much of a selection process; I think I screamed “OH BOY CHAUCER!” and threw pens around. The Canterbury Tales begin in April, and Peter was going to be elevated in April–an ideal opportunity.
The scroll in progress
The 18-line General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, like most of the greater work, is in pairs and occasional triplets of rhyming lines. Chaucer’s Middle English verse used an accentual five-stress meter that, historically, isn’t quite yet iambic pentameter. (A gross oversimplification. Let’s move on.) Verse translations of the work into modern English do very often use iambic pentameter, with which I’m comfortable, so that was the obvious choice. I briefly considered writing the whole thing in “real” Middle English, but the determining factor was that people listening when the scroll was read out in court would not be able to understand Middle English. Instead I chose to adopt deliberate archaisms–a period practice. Edmund Spenser, for example, affected medieval vocabulary when writing The Faerie Queene in Elizabethan England. I cribbed words and phrases from Chaucer for flavor. Most importantly, Chaucer’s line “He was a verray, parfit, gentil knight” (GP l. 72) suggested the final line of the scroll verse.
Dame Heather and I worked out the orthography of the scroll together. I changed some spellings to 14th-century forms; she suggested using the character thorn (þ) in place of “th” in most places. I’m most pleased and honored to have my first contribution to a peerage scroll include such wonderful people and beautiful art.
Master Peter Grau von Bremen, OD, OP, and scroll
Photos by Heather Rocchi