Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

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Dry Marches
"Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote..."

Okay, we all know about April showers, but what about the drought of March? March certainly isn't a month that feels particularly dry, and in recent decades Met Office data confirms that in London it has been, if anything, rather wetter than April.

Of course, poetic licence and all that, but surely the lines wouldn't have been so successful if Chaucer had been saying something palpably untrue?

Well, the climate was probably a bit different: Chaucer was living through the early years of the little ice age, after all, and perhaps dry Marches go with that territory - but I don't remember anyone else mentioning them, ever.

Your question has gotten me distracted with reading A. Stuart Dailey's 1970 article "Chaucer's Droghte of March in Medieval Farm Lore". Which quotes Spenser (Shepheardes Calendar) alluding to the same situation:
Or bene thine eyes attempred to the yeare,
Quenching the gasping furrowes thirst with rayne?
Like April shoure, so stremes the trickling teares
Adowne thy cheeke, to quenche thy thristye payne.
("Aprill," 5-8)
Although the countervailing theory appears to be (based on mere skimming here of other things) that the dry March in Chaucer at least may be a Mediterranean source import.

Now I feel lazy for not doing any research myself!

Well, I've certainly read the Shepheardes Calendar, but I'd forgotten that passage. Of course, Spenser was a self-proclaimed Chaucer fanboy, so even this may be a source import from the Canterbury Tales.

I hadn't considered that Chaucer might be channelling some other writer - though I should have done, since as an undergraduate I used to get annoyed at the keenness of the editors of my edition to find a source in Boccaccio, Macrobius, etc., for every line he wrote. (When they were occasionally unable to identify any they would harrumph and say that no source had yet been found, with the clear implication that it was only a matter of time.) Did the countervailing theorists mention what source they thought he was importing?

Rosemund Tuve (whose work I know better on personifications) apparently proposes a number of potential sources including the Secreta secretorum. So Pseudo-Aristotle. I'd have to read her argument to see if I find it any more convincing. But I'm quite willing to accept the argument that "droghte" mean "dry spell" rather than the modern sense of the drought.

As, I remember Rosemund Tuve as a fine Spenserian!

I'd assumed that "droghte" didn't mean drought in the severe modern sense: I doubt that Britain has ever suffered one of those in winter, at least in recorded history.

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