Pardoning the Poet

Geoffrey Chaucer was just one of the topics discussed at breakfast this morning. Marmalade was another – but that’s enough of that.

Chaucer isn’t the sort of writer to whom I would normally dedicate the precious jewel-like minutes of my life. One tale of his, however, does  insist on climbing into my mind from time to time. Or to be more exact, one character. I refer, of course, to the infamous Pardoner, a somewhat slimy character, of loose morals, who despite chronic cynicism and personal lack of faith nonetheless proves himself a rather able converter of lost souls.

Why should he wander into my head with such regularity? The fact is, I often think of him when I consider writers, so many of whom, despite their strong words, seem to me a wimpy, spineless sort. Their wordy bravado drives them through; not so their moral strength. They spin great sentences, inspiring readers to all sorts of worthy acts, though they in themselves may be craven cowards. They are, in short, an insincere crowd.

These are harsh words; taken to boiling point when I might have let them simmer. What, you may ask, inspires them?

I have, again, been pondering my wife’s dislike of the poet Brszny Derydaripov, whom she accuses of such insincerity; of taking up ideas and toying with them, kitten-like, without any intention of acting on whatever lies within. He is, she thinks, a Pardoner-like writer: full of words, but light on convictions. He is ‘all icing – and no cake’.

I would be inclined to agree, were it not for the fact that I don’t. Admittedly, there is something of the shape-shifter about old Brszny. He does change style more frequently than most. But this is not necessarily because he lacks substance, but that is he is, inherently, a playful poet. Or to put it another way, playfulness is his substance. Shape-shifting is his shape. Not every writer should have to be anchored to one way of working. Not every writer should be expected to wear their heart way out on their sleeve. Brszny is a breath of fresh air in this respect; he subverts our expectations – and does so winningly.

Ah, but was not the Pardoner equally charming? Well, indeed. And he was also a great story-teller – and knew it. Nor did he pretend, in certain company, that he was an upright man. And yet, well: he was, despite all this, an unattractive character. Whereas Derydaripov, I believe, is quite the opposite. He is not conviction-less, but a firm believer in undermining our need for convictions. He is sincere in his insincerity – and takes silliness as seriously as any great writer (which is, of course, very seriously indeed).

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