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Home » , » Poetry in the age of chaucer (except chaucer)/chaucer's contemporaries
The most domineering figure in Middle English literature is definitely age of Chaucer . His vast and varied works constitude the bulk of its glory and quality .  Yet , there are some other works by some other literary men. his contemporaries. 
Those works of his time are not comparable with Chaucer's masterpieces . Yet these have shares in the contribution to the enlargement of English literature in the later half of the Medieval age and the preparation for the impending Renaissance in the realm of English art and literature . 

Chaucer's contemporaries are more or less found his imitators or followers. His majestic influence on them is evident  iin greater or lesser degrees. Of such contemporaries William Langland, John Gower and Barbour are to be mentioned in particular.

William Langland

The name of William Langland has a celebrity in the English language for singular work -The Book of Piers, the plowman. In the English literature of the fourteenth century, Langland's Piers Plowman stands out as the most renowned work , save Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales . Whereas the later is a social chronicle, with engaging tales, Piers Plowman is an impressive allegory, more deeply concerned with religious, ethical, social and economic problem of the time. Piers Plowman is definitely a nnovel and radical work for his age. This is aa provocative probe into the depth of the social and moral life of the age. Like Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales this remains a fine mirror of the variety and complexity of medieval life.

Like The Canterbury Tales, Piers Plowman has a prologue that has the typical dream convention of medieval literature. This describes how the author falls asleepon tthe May morning on the Malvern Hills. He has a vision of a fair field, full of folk from different ranks and occupations.This Prologue, as in Chaucer's Prologue,records a graphic picture of the English society of the fourteenth century.Social scenes,rather than Chaucer's social types, however are more conspicuous in Langland's Prologue.

The frame work of Language's poem is allegorical. This describes a series of remarkable visions.This dreamer, that is the poet himself,has these visions in tthe dream. Langland's convictions of the moral faith and the social vices of his age find expression through these visions. His ethical point of view is quite clear here. His emphasis is on the supreme sermons of truth, work and love. Mans chief task is to seek truth. to have faith to succeeded in his work and love alone leads him to heaven. Piers Plowman.stands in the pivotal position of the entire theme. He symbolizes the moral virtues of life -truth, work and love. He remains the very object and inspiration for noble living.

Langland's Piers Plowman is a mighty achievement in the English literature of the fourteenth century.It ranks very high as a social study and a  moral sermon. Its significance lies mainly in its threefold manifestation. First,its is aa graphic picture of contemporary life and manners.Second,it is aa penetrative satire on social and ecclesiastical follies and vices. Third,it is a powerful allegory of human life and morality. As a social picture,the poem throws interesting side lights on medieval life. manners and customs in different places and occupations.  As a social satire the poem stands out remarkably. This is,  perhaps, the first great English satire. The poet is particularly quite critical of luxury and vices in high places, religious and secular.  As an allegory,  it brings out subtly the strife between good and evil in the human soul. The poet's emphasis is always on righteous living .

Piers Plowman also bears out Langland's radical view as a reformer.  His reformative zeal is equally evident in his treatment of political,  social and ecclesiastical matters . He advocates social equally and equal social responsibility . He is found to emphasize a life of simplicity,  sincerity and restraint.  Indeed,  in him is heard the echoes of the impending Puritanism.

Langland's work is no exhibition of grand poetry of the Chaucerian height. In him is seen neither an artist nor a musician .The poem is written in the old alliterative meter. But the handling of the alliterative line is always easy and confident,  and as a result,  Piers Plowman never appears as a poem monotonous or hard to read.

John Gower

John Gower,who lived between 1325 and 1408, was Chaucer's contemporary, and had,perhaps, some intimacy with him. Of course,he was more medieval than the great master, and was a little behind his time. His major works,mainly narrative, were written in the eighties of fourteenth century, at aa time written in the eighties of the fourteenth century, at a time when Chaucer had already reached the height of his literary excellence.

Gower's first important work,Speculum Homms or Speculam Meditantis is in French. This is aa long sermon against the sins of the time. His next work Vox Clamantis is in Latin. This is a dream allegory with a social -political theme. This is about the peasants' uprising of the fourteenth century.

John Gower's last important work,produced in 1383-84, is in English. This is Confessio Amantis, an ambitious project to present in pleasing verses numerous stories  ,taken from various sources. The work, which is a long compilation of 40,000 octo-syllabic lines, contains more than a hundred stories of varying lengths and from diverse sources , from the Holy Bible to Ovid.  There is a well set plan to tell some engaging tales in a simple and melodious style.

Growers  work is well-planned,  but not properly executed . It marks little originality in his imagination or in his ideas. The influence of Chaucer on him is, no doubt , patent,  but there is no Chaucerian sense of proportion and control over the total structure. Moreover , the constant  moralizing  trend and the conventional bias of the middle ages , expressed in him , weary and make him more mechanically medieval.  Gower has also neither the skill of character portraits nor the sense of wit and humour,  so prominently found in Chaucer.

Growers writing however,  is not without literary qualities. His originality,  as a story teller in verse, is amply evident. No previous author is found to have versified so large a collection of stories or devised such an ingenious and elaborate scheme of combination . Moreover, Gower's mode of narration is simple and straightforward and he never becomes tedious in his story-telling.  His description art is well combined with his meditative depth. His language is developed and polished that marks the cultured London dialect- the king's English.

John Barbour

Like Langland,John Barbour (poet)our was a literary follower of Chaucer.But,unlike Langland, he was a Scottish poet. Though himself a chaurchman, he was no author of religious or ethical works.His principal work The Bruce is rather political and patriotic. 

Barbour's The Bruce, written between 1373 and 1378,is a sort of the national epic for the Scottish people. The author is found to present and preserve here poetically the memorable history of the heroic struggle of the Scottish people,under Bruce's leadership and their ultimate success.

Though based on history, Barbour's The Bruce like other national epics,contains a good deal of fictional matters.Lots of the material of romances are found mingled with the facts of history. All this, however,serves to add to the poetical as well as popular appeal of the work.

Barbour,of course,is not found to possess the hightest gifts of an epic or narrative poet. But he possesses a style that is simple, sincere and straight -forward,with a high degree of rapidity and sonority. Barbour is supposed to have been the author of some other literary works-Lives of the Saints,  a lengthy work in couplets,  The Stewarties Oryginalle, containing the genealogy of the Scottish Kings , Siege of Troy,  a fragmentary work , and The Bulk of Alexander , a happy popular poem.


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