Chaucer’s Dream Poems
And upon pilers grete of Iasper longe
I saw a temple of bras y-founded stronge.
Translation from Parliament of Fowls (1381-2): And upon pillars tall of jasper long, I saw a temple of brass, sound and strong.
From 1374 to 1386 Chaucer lived in Aldgate, above the confluencing bustle of the City. and during this time, he wrote The House of Fame and The Parliament of Fowls. Both of these dream poems include images of a fantastic dream-like temples elevated over large, strange landscapes. It is possible to see the correlation between these places and Chaucer’s own home in Aldgate.
In the Parliament of Fowls, there is described a brass temple on tall pillars of jasper inhabited by creatures of love from Promise to Jealousy. The brass temple sits within and above a walled garden where one finds either supreme happiness or despair, as in the City one finds prosperity or destitution.
In the House of Fame, there are two such edifices, a temple of glass filled with golden decorative images and niches, and a sumptuous palace on a mountain of ice that sits at the confluence of all words – as in Aldgate, Chaucer sat at the confluence of paths in and out of the east of the City of London. In the valley below, there is a 60-mile wide spinning wicker house of gossip, also perhaps an analogy for the City.
From House of Fame (1379-1380):
But as I sleep, me mette I was
Within a temple y-mad of glas;
In whiche ther were mo images
Of gold, stondinge in sondry stages,
And mo riche tabernacles,
And with perre mo pinacles,
And mo curious portreytures,
And queynte maner of figures
Of olde werke, then I saw ever.
(But as I slept I dreamed I was within a temple of glass,
in which were more golden images standing on various stands,
and more rich decorative niches, and more pinnacles of gemmed work, and more skillful portraits and curious types of figures in old work than ever I had seen.)
First shalt thou heren wher she dwelleth,
And so thyn owne book hit telleth;
Hir paleys stant, as I shal seye,
Right even in middes of the weye
Betwixen hevene, erthe, and see;
That, what-so-ever in al these three
Is spoken, in privee or aperte,
The way therto is so overte,
And stant eek in so Iuste a place,
That every soun mot to hit pace,
Or what so comth fro any tonge,
Be hit rouned, red, or songe,
Or spoke in seurtee or in drede,
Certein, hit moste thider nede.
(As I shall tell you, her palace stands in the very midst of the way between heaven, earth and sea; so that, whatever is spoken secretly or openly in all three of these domains, every sound must pass to it, or whatever comes from any mouth, be it read or sung or whispered, or spoken in security or fear, certainly it must go there, since that palace stands in so exact a spot, and the road to it is so open.)
Both dream poems capture edifices that are fantastically rich and sumptuous, of impossible materials and/or scale, elevated on precarious, precious structure and accompanied by walled places with City-like characteristics.
One can imagine Chaucer sitting above the thoroughfare of the London’s easternmost gate overlooking the bustling City to one side and the putrid Houndsditch (then a moat to the London Wall) to the other, and imagining dream-like visions of structures hovering above the city below.
Architect: Studio Weave
Structural Engineer: Structure Workshop
Development Manager: M3 Consulting
Planning Consultant: DP9
Funded by 4C Hotel Group
British Timber supplied by BSW Timber Group
Timber grown by Forestry Commission Wales
Streetworks by Conways
Concrete donated by Laing O’Rourke
Fabrication and Installation by AB3 Workshops
Pattern Design and Print by Linda Florence
Ground Scanning and Services: Reach Active
Barriers donated by John F Hunt
Legal advice by Ashurst LLP
Archaeological monitoring and input by Museum of London Archaeology
Paleys Upon Pilers, Aldgate
Paleys Upon Pilers is an intricate timber palace perched on pillars that marks the spot of Aldgate and commemorates its most distinguished resident, Geoffrey Chaucer. It also celebrates the gateway from the City of London to the Olympic Park for the London Festival of Architecture 2012.
The historic eastern gateway into the City existed as a physical entity from Roman times until 1761 but the site remains a strategic position in London today and stands at the road that leads all the way to Stratford. The Paleys also signals the vast transformation that this area is going to see, in terms of development, over the next decade.
Our design has been inspired by two dream poems written by Chaucer while resident in the rooms above the gate in the 14th century: The House of Fame and The Parlement of Foules, or Parliament of Fowls (see left).
Paleys Upon Pilers is an abstraction of the uppermost room (a small niche with a pitched roof) of the old gate, an evocation of Chaucer’s luxurious dreamed temples and, like a dressmaker’s bust, a ghostly base over which new dreams and imaginings can be overlaid.
It speaks to Chaucer’s elevated temples, while providing a focus for the public space and highlighting the extent of the old City walls. The structure consists of a kind of timber embroidery and will sit in the air above the busy Aldgate High Street, supported on pillars that are decorated with a pattern inspired by the illuminated manuscripts.
The elaborate pattern was designed and screen-printed by Linda Florence in red, blue and gold, the latter of which has been gilded with Dutch gold leaf.
Paleys Upon Pilers has a custodian in the shape of Geoffrey the Owl, who perches high up in the structure keeping an eye on the world below him (in particular pigeons who are considering a fancy new home).