A Dream Vision for Our Time

BBC Radio 4

Writer Henry Eliot explores Geoffrey Chaucer’s surreal Dream Vision poems and their contemporary relevance.

Chaucer, the father of English literature, is best known for his long narrative poem The Canterbury Tales, but his witty and imaginative dream visions are also wild, funny and surprisingly relevant today. Henry Eliot considers three of these medieval poems – The Parliament of Fowls, The Book of the Duchess and The House of Fame – and how they changed the course of English poetry.

They all begin with a narrator falling asleep, before quickly slipping into surreal and fantastical dream worlds, where talking birds debate the nature of true love, eagles fly into space and men grieve in forests. There are desert wildernesses, ice mountains, glass temples, wicker houses and emerald palaces.

Chaucer depicts the cacophonous worlds of rumour, debate, gossip and hearsay, invoking uncanny parallels with today’s world of social media frenzies, celebrity culture, post-truth and fake news. But he also explores the complex and messy nature of psychology, experience and what it means to be human.

A Just Radio production for BBC Radio 4

Producer: Jo Wheeler

Broadcast Date: 20th January 2019