Parallel Between Poet’s Insomnia and Knight
According to the medieval dream theory and its classification system, the dream experience by the poet in The Book of Duchess seemingly belongs to that variety wherein the impression and concerns of the previous day are recycled during sleep (Macrobius 88-90). The poet’s own feelings of lethargy, in combination with particular motifs from the story of Ceyx and Alyzone, manifest itself into the externalized form of the grief-stricken knight. Therefore, the knight’s state of mind is foreshadowed in the sorrow of Alcyone and in the strange insomnia experienced by the poet. Moreover, this particular ability of the characters to emerge from their emotional paralyses establishes a pattern of consolation throughout the poem. In this regard, unlike the Boethian mode, this Chaucerian consolation works towards a transformation of worldly enthusiasm and seeks to reverse the effects of sorrow rather than to transcend the causes.
The prologue, in Book of Duchess, not only serves as a introduction to the vision that is to follow, but also gives the reader the atmosphere and the mood of the poem, which is love, sorrow and lament. The prologue illustrates that the Dreamer has complete psychic sympathy with the subject; as what could be more natural than the Dreamer should dream of longing while his mind is full of the piteous tale of Alyzone, and the background of his thought was his own suffering founded in hopeless love.
In Book of the Duchess, Chaucer chooses to draw close parallels between the poet’s insomnia and the knight’s grief. In showcasing the knight’s complete lack of interest in the hunt coupled by his general lethargy, Chaucer effectively alludes to the apathy experienced by the poet himself and his own feelings of loss of energy and enthusiasm. The capacity of the poet to take notice of nothing, “how hyt cometh or gooth" (BD 7), is mirrored by the knight’s failure to notice the approaching poet in the garden in lines 500-510; the reason being that both characters have completely severed themselves, at least psychologically, from their worldly surroundings. While the knight has removed himself from the court and immersed himself in “his owne thoght” (504), the poet suggests that he too has rid himself of the external world that has become illusory to him (12-13). The knight shuts outs the beauty of the garden that surrounds him, and that has helped revitalize the dreamer. Instead, the knight has “yturned his bak / To an ook, an huge tree" (446-447). The oak tree is symbolic as it is the symbol of Nature’s strength (CITE THIS). Thus, in their mirrored states of despair, both the knight and poet engross themselves in countering natural law, one concerning himself with his insomnia, while the other concerning himself merely with his memories.
Concerning his insomnia, the poet states somewhat mysteriously,
The poet never completely explains what he means by “sorwe” which he mentions as an afterthought...