Jan 23: Adin E. Lears’ “Something From Nothing”

In the article Lears states that the poem is cyclical and by the end “the poem seems to go nowhere, condemning the Black Knight, the Dreamer, and the reader to an endless reiteration of this tale of melancholy and grief.” Do you find any problems with this statement in relationship with The Book of the Duchess? Why or why not?

5 thoughts on “Jan 23: Adin E. Lears’ “Something From Nothing”

  1. I think that there is some form of release from the melancholy at the end of the poem, at least at the Dreamer’s end. The Dreamer, as Lears discusses, is idle with melancholy and is unable to produce any work. Yet at the end of the poem, the Dreamer is able to create something and be released from his idleness by producing his dream poem (220). So there is some release for the Dreamer.

    Whether or not the man in black is released is unclear. While he does through the confessional stages as Lears discussed, I never got the impression that the man in black was released by his melancholic idleness like the Dreamer was. While Chaucer does say that the king has somewhere to go, ‘a longe castel with walles whyte’, we never actually see him leave towards the castle after the hunt (1318). Instead, he is left sitting there in the forest with the Dreamer merely stating that he ‘thoughte’ he could ride quickly home (1314). Yet does the man in black actually leave? The Dreamer never says that he got up and went home, only that he thought he could go quickly home. He could still be sitting there for all the reader or the Dreamer knows, it isn’t clarified.

    • I agree that the dreamer does seem to receive some kind of relief from his earlier melancholy at least in his newfound task of penning his dream, of course, we could say the dreamer has relief the moment the dream begins, seeing as his insomnia was his issue from the beginning. However, I like how you frame the question surrounding the man in black, the dream itself seems to provide him with an exit to his grief but the question is whether he capitalizes on it, or whether he even should. The cyclical nature of the poem I think rightly places the man in black in an eternal loop of grief, fully dedicating him to his “crafte” of love ad infinitum. Yet, I can’t help but feel like the dreamer’s wakening ends the loop, after all, the man in black is actually an occupant of the dream, and can the dream exist without the dreamer? But if that’s the case, we don’t get a lot of closure for the man in black, suggesting an eternal structure to his melancholy, and the fact that the final lines dedicate the dreamer to the echo of the dream seem to confirm this.

  2. I agree with Regan that the state of the Black Knight’s grief is relatively unclear at the end of the poem, as he finishes the retelling of his lost love. Even though he moved through the entire confession with the encouragement of the Dreamer, it is unknown if the process actually brought him any consolation, or if the reliving of his grief only served to amplify his melancholy. Once the Black Knight proclaims that “She ys ded” (1309) at the end of the poem, he seems to come to the realization of the eternity of death and the possible eternity of his grief over her. As Lears states, this realization for him and the lack of any consolation following “suggests an idle lack of progress in the poem as a whole” (219).

    While the Dreamer gets to awaken from his sleep and move on from his state of insomnia and creative difficulties, the Black Knight is stuck in this dream vision, possibly facing a continuous cycle of his grief and sadness forever.

  3. I would disagree with some of the previously shared sentiments that the Black Knight wasn’t released from his sorrow, to an extent. Although the bulk of the poem is dedicated to the “confession” of the Black Knight, his final realization is a simple, realistic statement: “She is deed” (1309). The man departs and the poem concludes shortly after. I do believe that the Black Knight still carries a great deal of his grief after he leaves, but I also believe that some of the tension is resolved by coming to terms with reality. This is all to say that sorrow doesn’t fully go away, but rather we learn to cope with it and move on in spite of it.

    If the Black Knight really did free himself of his sorrow, how convincing would it have been for a story? There is no cure for him but the revival of his wife, but the Dreamer’s confessor role provides some closure and catharsis.

  4. Thinking optimistically, I would prefer to not be stuck in a tale of melancholy and grief with a dreamer and a depressed knight. After reading the highly detailed description of how the knight and the dreamer’s conversation was designed to represent a modernized confessional meeting, one can only imagine that Chaucer would hope to have relieved his grieving knight. The knight did go through what the clergy considers a thorough confessional conversation with the dreamer who is clearly of some form of courtly or clergical figure. Somehow, the knight and the dreamer are truly the ones at the end of the story embeded to this cyclical tale. Despite the cyclicality of the poem, the implications that gesture towards Chaucer’s future writing suggest his desire to progress the “productive potential of queer affinities.” If the poem was truly cyclical, the poem would have not come into existence because the dreamer would have been trapped in his state of melancholia. Another important concluding component that distances this poem from being truly cyclical is Chaucer’s gesture towards the ability to create something from nothing, and the productive potential of idleness.

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