Below is a side-by-side of Chaucer’s Middle English and my modern translation:
|God turne us every drem to goode!||God turn us every dream to good!|
|For it is wonder, be the roode,||For it is a marvel, by Christ’s cross,|
|To my wit, what causeth swevenes||To my mind what causes dreams|
|Either on morwes or on evenes,||Either in the mornings or in evenings|
|5||And why the effect folweth of some,||And why some come true,|
|And of some hit shal never come;||And why some do not;|
|Why that is an avisioun||Why that is a vision|
|And why this a revelation,||And why this is a revelation,|
|Why this a drem, why that a sweven,||Why this is one dream, and that another,|
|10||And nought to every man liche even;||And not the same for every man;|
|Why this fantome, why these oracles,||Why this a phantom, why these prophecies,|
(Chaucer ll. 1-11)
Chaucer’s narrator swears by the cross that the cause of dreams is “wonder” to his “wit” (Chaucer ll. 2-3).
Finding explanations for the questions that arise out of the human experience and the phenomenon of dreaming is centralized in the narrator’s questions.
It is important to note that during the period in which Geoffrey Chaucer authored this famous work, science and religion were not at odds with one another and therefore these seemingly scientific questions can be asked side by side with the invocation of God.
Lines 2 and 3 may in themselves embody the argument that Chaucer had an interest in cognitive science, in particular dream theory, and may have had an active engagement with the science. In Middle English, he explicitly acknowledges through his narrator that dreams are a source of intrigue. This long reflection on dreams shows that the narrator’s interest is deeper than the basic question of cause.
Purpose, content, process, individuality, and relevance are all focal points for Chaucer’s narrator. As an author, Chaucer is interested in exploring this cognitive phenomenon that all conscious human beings experience through the medium of literature.
Now imagine reading the original handwritten illuminated manuscript in Middle English!