The famous opening lines of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales repay repetition when we ponder the question of pilgrim motivation. Here the poet is rooting the human impulse to pilgrimage in a context of nature and season. The sap is rising, crops and creatures are astir, and Chaucer’s characters, because they are Christians, express their participation in the general ferment by going on pilgrimage. Because they are also English, many of them choose to go to Canterbury, but others seek out distant shrines, and for these ‘palmers’ the very ‘strangeness’ of such places is important. The only specific pretext for domestic pilgrimage to which Chaucer refers is the desire to give thanks for delivery from sickness; he assumes that the saint’s ‘help’ has already been received.
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