There is no poet in any language of more extravagant wit and wisdom than old Geoffrey Chaucer, and no more universal, but for the challenge of the language. Like Homer in Greek, Dante in Italian, Chaucer set the bar too high for anyone ever to exceed him. And how fundamentally English he was, as if all the "personality" of our literature flowed from the same cultural spring!
My generation may have been almost the last to memorize the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales and to learn the few easy rules of pronunciation and syntax we needed to enjoy Chaucer. Helas! The times, they are a-changing. Still, a few years ago I had an irrational lust to revive my ability to read Middle English, just for fun. I discovered that there were audio-books of many of the Canterbury Tales, including the Wife of Bath's salacious masterpiece. Of all Chaucer's dramatis personae, the Wife of Bath is surely the most humanly convincing, the randy old dame! "Why, I'm probably just the right age to be husband number six," thought I. So I ordered this CD. By the time the CD reached me, I'd forgotten my urge to make use of it. In fact, I forgot I had it until yesterday, when it somehow popped out of the shelf at me.
Elizabeth Salter and her unnamed male foil speak the poetry of Chaucer with enough 'naturalness' to persuade me, particularly since recording technology was still rather crude in the 1300s. With the ability to pause the disk by remote, I find that I can follow the most familiar parts of the Wife's narrative comfortably. For most of the tale, however, I have to keep my eyes on the text. I wouldn't mind if Salter had delivered her words just a trifle slower, but then perhaps the rollicking cadences wouldn't have frolicked so mirthfully. There are lots of editions of the Canterbury Tales available with old and new English on facing pages, making the effort much easier.
This is probably not everyone's idea of fun, what with movies of Beowulf starring naked babes as Grendel's Mother and such. But Chaucer is too good to be lost. If YOU the parents of America no longer have the willpower to compel your teenagers to labor through the Canterbury Tales, then it's YOUR obligation to do so yourselves!