Friday, July 29, 2005

Friday Poetry Blogging: Chaucer in da HOOD edition

OK, this is super cool. Baba Brinkman, a rap/spoken word artist, has embarked on a project to make Chaucer's Canterbury Tales more accessible for a young, modern audience by translating them into rap. This is a pretty goddamned ambitious thing to do, but I'll be damned if he hasn't gotten it just right. Here's a sample of Chaucer's "The Pardoner's Tale," as originally written:

And up they stirte, al dronken in this rage,
And forth they goon towardes that village
Of which the taverner hadde spoke biforn.
And many a grisly ooth thanne han they sworn,
And cristes blessed body al torente -
Deeth shal be deed, if that they may hym hente!
Whan they han goon nat fully half a mile,
Right as they wolde han troden over a stile,
An oold man and a povre with hem mette.
This olde man ful mekely hem grette,
And seyde thus, now, lordes, God yow see!
The proudeste of thise riotoures three
Answerde agayn, what, carl, with sory grace!
Why artow al forwrapped save thy face?
Why lyvestow so longe in so greet age?

Good stuff, yes? Goes trippingly off the tongue and all that. Nonetheless, possibly a wee tad impenetrable for anyone who hasn't grown up in the 14th century, or at least studied it in college. Now, here's Baba's version of the same lines:

...When he'd said his piece
The rest agreed, and the three friends hit the streets
And went to seek their destiny and provoke a confrontation,
In a drunken rage hoping Death would come and face them.
Their intoxication made them sure of their purpose
And fed the infernal furnace of their courage,
A kernel nourished by these three murderous wretches in denial.
Less than a mile into their quest to put Death on trial
They met this guy all wrapped in bandages:
An old handicapped man with disadvantages,
And the three friends examined his bleeding flesh
And demanded he tell them how he was cheating death.

Pretty freaking cool, no? I'm not saying this should substitute for the original, but what a great way to give kids an entry into Chaucer's dense imagery and visceral subjects. And it's got great rhythm! You can see more converted tales on Baba's website, along with an explanation of the project, and a link to purchase a spoken-word album. (Hat tip to Boing Boing for the original link.)