3/13/2019

A short survey of the career of Chaucer as a poet.



Geoffrey Chaucer has been called the father of English poetry. Because he is the first English poet to write in a style of language which is readily recognizable today. He is undoubtedly the founder of English literature and language. His poetical genius has passed through two distinct phases or stages of development. This development goes on till it attains its fullest maturity in the third or final stage. Chaucer has started his poetic career with translation of the French writers at first. Then he begins to write imitating the great Italian masters. At last, he is able to find himself in his most original and individual accomplishments. Thus it has become customary to divide his poetic career into three distinct periods. In other words, the
literary career of Chaucer is divided into three main phases. They
are……..
1. The French Period;
2. The Italian Period;
3. The English Period.

In this respect, we should keep in
mind that the division is not a one. But it has been generally accepted for its convenience. Chaucer rejects the Anglo-Saxon French poetry of his time. His poems of the French group are modelled upon the French originals. They are mostly translations in clumsy and unformed English. "The Romaunt of the Rose" is one of the most notable of them. It is a engthy allegorical poem based on "Roman be la Rose". "Roman de
la Rose" was actually a momentous poem in European literature. It was jointly written by two poets. Guillaume de Lorris was the first
French poet who started writing it. But the poem remained unfinished about the year 1230. The poet wrote only 400 lines up to this time. Jean de Meung was the second French poet who started composing the poem about fifty years later. He completed it with eighteen thousand more lines.

“Roman de la  Rose" or "The Romance of the Rose" is written in
labic couplet. Chaucer's initiation as a poet begins with it. The translation work has a disciplinary effect of his style and manner. His love for allegorical poetry is to be traced to this influence. The translation of the poem by Chaucer exists in a fragment containing eight thousand lines. Perhaps the best poem of the poet in the first phase is the "Dethe of Blanche”, “The Duchesse". It is also known as The Boke of the Duchesse" or "The Book of the Duchess". It is his first important poem written about 1369. It is
sort of elegy on the Duchess who was the wife of John of Gaunt died
in the same year. The poem is also allegorical in character.

Chaucer had been in Italy on a diplomatic mission. He had personally known Petrarch, Boccaccio and probably Dante. These three poets influenced him deeply. The Italian Period of Chaucer's poetic career suggests his profound and serious study of the Italian masters. But we have to keep in mind that Dante was already dead
when Chaucer arrived in Italy. At that time, Petrarch and Boccaccio had only two and three years respectively to live. But there is no evidence to suggest that Chaucer and Boccaccio must have met. It is almost certain that Chaucer was carrying manuscripts of these great Italian masters in the time of his returning to England.

In this phase, Chaucer rises above translation to imitation. His chiefpoems of this period are as follows-
1. Troilus and Criseye
2. The House of Fame;
3. The Parliament of Fowls;
4. The Legend of Good Women;
5. The Story of Grieselda and
6. Anelida and Arcite.

“Troilus and Criseyde” is probably the finest complete work of the poet. It was written probably between 1380 and 1383. It is over eight thousand lines in length. It is divided unequally into five books. So it is a long poem partly adapted and partly translated from Boccaccio's “II Filostrato”. In Troilus and Criseyde, Chaucer is half-Italian and half-English. It is written in stanzas of Rime Royal. Rime Royal is a
form of stanza which has seven iambic pentameter lines rhyming ab
ab bcc. In this poem, the poet shows that Troilus is the son of king Priam and the prince of Troy. He does not like the woman sex but falls in love with the most beautiful woman, Cressida. Cressida who is the daughter to Calchas also loves him. But this young widow does not keep her word and marries other. Chaucer represents Pandarus as her uncle but in fact he is the brother of Cressida.

In the third phase of Chaucer's poetic career, “The Canterbury Tales” is the crowning achievement. I is the merit of his completed wisdom. It is an original work. It is English thorough and thorough. The “Tales" is suffused with the English air. The general ideas of this collection of tales is derived from improves upon Boccaccio and gives English Character to the framework. He has planned to compose the poem probably in 1387 and has finished it in 1388. He prologus this poem up to seventeen thousand lines. His characterized different type of characters in these tales. What he paints is derived from real life. In this respect, Emily Legouis says, “It is more than a literary innovation.  It is a change in mental attitude. Poetry turned with tolerant curiosity to the study of man and manners. For the fast time, the relation between individuals and ideas is clearly realized”

“The Canterbury Tales” is not only Chaucer's masterpiece but also the high point of all English medieval literature. There is a background to compose the poem. Chaucer might have joined the pilgrims who used to go to the Canterbury Church. Harry Baily the owner of Tabard Inn also joined them. It is decided that each pilgrim will tell 4 stories-two stories going and the other two returning. The company consists of thirty people. They should tell 120 complete tales. But they only finish 21 complete tales and three remain
unfinished. Moreover, no pilgrim tells more than a single story. "The
Prologue to the Canterbury Tales" is a sort of picture gallery. It contains 858 lines. Here the poet has created a host of vital and individual characters. They are 24 in number.

From our discussion, we can say that each phase or period Chaucer's poetic career is significant. It helps us greatly in order understand his complete poetical works. The French Period, the Italian Period and the English Period give us a great number of his works. These are the principal phases of the development of his poetry. They have represented him a poet. Matthew Arnold calls him
the father of modern English poetry. But his poetry is not free from fault and is not sound. It only provides opportunity to study deeply

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