For ages, many have believed the hero of Middle English, Geoffrey Chaucer, to be buried in the Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. While the body of the famous poet and author may rot beneath dirt and dust, his soul lives on, in the body of UCCS English professor Thomas Napierkowski.
In 1973, the reincarnated essence of Chaucer drove up the dirt road to UCCS, scheming about what new contributions he could make to the English language.
While he had helped establish Middle English in opposition to French and Latin and while his “Canterbury Tales” had taken root in the soot of the British language, he yearned to yet again contribute his knowledge and passion to the young minds of Colorado Springs. This would be his next great quest.
But the passion and entrenchment of the Middle Ages would be hard to relinquish. Chaucer learned of new immigrant contributions to the English language and his lectures began to branch out into new English, but he could never let go of those dark but wonderful times.
Or rather, they would not let go of him.
“Welcome to ‘History of the English Language.’ I am your professor, Dr. Napierkowski,” Chaucer would say from his new body before the classroom. He relished his new identity. These students had no idea, and they gave their loyalty without question.
“This is not a democracy,” he would say in rebellion against that preposterous idea of self-governance — letting men and women lead themselves without God-ordained leadership; he’d fix that. “This is a monarchy, and I am your benevolent ruler.”
He’d speak of the history of his language, a language he helped solidify.
“The word ‘they’ entered the language after the Nordic people invaded,” he’d say with a coy smile, remembering fondly the first time her heard that word from the foreign people. These pupils would learn his history, and they would learn it right.
“Brandon!” he’d point and call out the student in the back, mindlessly doodling. “Where does the English language originate from?”
“Uh… somewhere in Germany?” Brandon said uncertainly.
“Wrong! Brian, help him out.”
“The English language originates form the lower west Germanic region.”
“Perfect! Exactly what I’d expect from you, Brian. Brandon, study up. Your exam is next class.”
While Chaucer continues to humble and bewilder the UCCS campus with his knowledge and wisdom, he was pleasantly surprised to fall in love with more than his new found power as an English professor. He found love. He had kids. He made friends.
Beyond literature, beyond poetry, beyond history and time, his greatest joy was not to relish in his legacy, but to make genuine connections that transcend language. For once, he was without words as he reflected back over his second life and the joys it had given him. For yet again, Chaucer’s words were proven true.
“Time and tide wait for no man.
He was as fresh as is the month of May.
The life so short, the crafts so long to learn.
The guilty think all talk is of themselves.
People can die of mere imagination.
Full wise is he that can himselven knowe.
And gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche.
Yet in oure asshen olde is fyr yreke.
By nature, men love newfangledness.
First he wrought, and afterward he taught.”