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Geoffrey Chaucer is one of the greatest poets of England. He is known to be the father of English poetry. This does not mean that there were no poetry poets in England before him. But before Chaucer, there was no National language.  There were merely several regional languages. Chaucer used one of these languages, East Midland. By the force of his genius,  he raised it to the level of the national language of England. He was, therefore, both the father of English poetry and the father of the English language.  He is the first national poet of England. There were order poets also in his time. They were John Gower and William Langland. But their poetry is a little read and enjoyed today. On the contrary,  Chaucer continues to be as fresh and enjoyable as when he lived and wrote.
Geoffrey Chaucer

Chaucer has been called the father of English poetry. Edward Albert calls him "The earliest of the great moderns" Chaucer stands at the end of the Middle ages and the beginning of the modern age.  He has been called "The Morning Star of the Renaissance " His poetry reflects the medieval spirit.  It also reflects the Italian Renaissance. Renaissance was first felt in England at his age.  Chaucer was tributed highly to his genius for the next one hundred and fifty. There was none too much of him. About one hundred seventy years later, we got Edmund Spenser who is regarded as the poet's Poet. In fact,  he is being enjoyed with the same enthusiasm today despite the lapse of five centuries.  But in the meantime, the English language has undergone radical changes. He stands head and shoulders above his contemporaries and successors and Father Of English Poetry.

Chaucer's modernism is best reflected in his realism. He reflects on the real life of the England of his day. He began his career by following the tradition of courtly love, allegory, and dramatic poetry.  But he soon discarded this tradition and turned his eyes to the life and people of his times. In The Canterbury Tales, he comes to his own. His Prologue to the Canterbury Tales is the epitome of 14th-century England. With great force and realism, he painted the life and people of his times. His realism is nowhere seen to better advantage than in the delineation of character. In this respect, A.C. Ward says, "Chaucer is the first great painter of Character ."With a few deft touches, he brings his characters to life. They are individuals as well as types. In his twenty-nine pilgrims, all the different classes,  peoples, and professions of his time find a vivid expression. He represents his age not in fragments but as a whole.

Chaucer rejected the medieval poetic tradition.  He broke free from the religious influence of the Middle Ages. Ecclesiastical ideas and medieval habits of mind were still the controlling elements in his period. But in him, their sway is broken by the spirit of the Italian Renaissance. He is "The Morning Star of the Renaissance. "The face and secular spirit first express itself in our English poetry through him. He loves human nature including all its weaknesses. He takes frank joy in the good things of life. He takes interest in his fellowmen and enjoys their company. He is not repelled even by the wicked, the foolish, and the rascal. He is aware of the corruption in the church. But he nowhere lashes at it fiercely as does Langland,  his great contemporary. His wide sympathy, gentle humanity, tolerance, etc. make him really the first of the great moderns.

Chaucer is the first true humorist in English literature. His humor is the expression of his joy in life and of his wide sympathy and tolerance. Humor is the life and soul of his works. His humor is many-sided and all-pervasive like that of Shakespeare or Dickens. His eyes take on a merry twinkle as they fall on folly or wickedness of human nature.  He can laugh even at his own expense.  He never lashes bitterly at folly or vice .but even looks on and smiles. He is the first of the great modern humorists of England.

Chaucer is the first great national poet of England. He became the founder of modern English poetry. Because he freed himself from foreign influences. He used his own native language as the medium for his art. But Gower used Latin and French. Chaucer concentrated his energies on the development of his native tongue.  He made it a fit medium for literary expression. In this respect, Lowel rightly says,
He found English a dialect and left it a language 
While all others of his age were local or provincial,  he alone is national. He imparted to the English language modern ease, suppleness, flexibility, and smoothness. He breathed into it a high poetic life. He is certainly what Spenser called him," The well of English undefiled". He gave the people a language so reformed and reshaped as to be a potent instrument for the expression of thought.

Chaucer is one of the most musical of English poets. His English looks very different at first.  But it can easily be mastered with a little labor and perseverance.  He struck a modern note when he abandoned altogether the Old English irregular lines and alliteration. He adopted the French method of regular meters and end-rhymes. He discarded complicated stanza forms. For the first time, he achieved the union of simplicity and freedom in his verse. Such union is the characteristic note of modern English poetry. He introduced the Heroic Couplet into English Verse. He invented the Rhyme Royal.

Chaucer's descriptions are masterpieces.  His best descriptions of men, manners, and places have a vivacity that makes his poetry unique.  He takes joy in the beauty of nature as he did in life and in the company of his fellowmen. In this respect,  Emile Legouis says,

"It is more than a literary innovation.  It is a change of mental attitude. Poetry turned with tolerant curiosity to the study of man and manners.  For the first time, the relationship between individuals and ideas is clearly realized "
Chaucer did not invent his own tales.  Like Shakespeare.  He borrowed them from Classic,  Italian,  French, or English Sources. But he made them all his own by the manner of his narration.  In this respect. He is the supreme storyteller in verse. He has a greater sense of narrative unity than any other of his contemporaries.  His mastery of the art of narration has led many to call him the father of the English novel. His Canterbury Tales are so many novels in miniature. They are only to be translated into prose to become so many modern novels. That is why  William J. Long has called his Prologue to the Canterbury Tales "the Prologue to modern fiction " S.D. Neil remarks,
"Had Chaucer written in Prose, it is possible that hid Troilus and Criseyde and not Richardson's Pamela would be celebrated as the first English novel."
Certain limitations of Chaucer may now be noted.  He represents the growth of intelligence and the consequent weakening of passion and imagination. Since a lyric is a compound of imagination and passion there is a lack of lyricism in his poetry. Matthew Arnold found that Chaucer wanted sublimity and high seriousness. He, therefore,  did not regard him as a great classic.
However, in the context of the delineation, as stated above,  we can say that Chaucer's poetry has some limitations.  He may not be a poet of the very first order. we may not get from him moral and philosophical guidance. He may not rise to the highest tragedy or pathos. But we get from him a lot of Zest for life and a refreshing enjoyment of all that is beautiful in nature and life. So his place remains undisputed as the father of English poetry.  He is a realist and humorist . He is the master of characterization. His rejection of medieval conventions and his services to the English language and versification have made him "the earliest of the great moderns". When we enter his world, we feel entirely at home as much as we do with Spenser and Shakespeare. We feel the same when we study any great luminary of modern English literature. In fact, Chaucer is a modern who can be enjoyed by the modern reader with perfect ease. He is certainly among the few greatest poets in the world.


Unknown said...

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Unknown said...

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