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Friday, 6 July 2018

Give a brief 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 happy one. But it has been generally accepted for its convenience.
Chaucer as a poet

Chaucer  rejects the Anglo-Saxon French poetry of his time. His poems of the France 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 themm.It is a lengthy allegorical poem based on "Roman de 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 octosyllabic 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 Duchesses ".It is also known as "The Boke of the Duchesses " or " The Book of the Duchess ". It is his first important poem written about 1369.it is a 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 of England.

In this phase, Chaucer rises above translation to imitation .His chief poems of third period are as follows -

  1. Troilus and Criseyde;
  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 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 from of stanza which has seven iambic pentameter lines rhyming ab ab bcc. In this poem, the poet shows that Troilus is the Troilus is the son of king priam and the prince of Troy.He does not like the women sex but falls in love with the most beautiful women, 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. It is the merit of his complete wisdom.It is an original work.It is English through and through. The "Tales" is suffused with the English air.The general idea of this collection of tales is derived from Boccaccio's Decameron.Chaucer improves upon Boccaccio  and gives English Character to the frame work. He has planned to compose the poem probably in 1387 and has finished it in 1388.He prolongs this poem up to seventeen thousand lines.He has characteristics different type of characters in these tales.What he paints is derived  from real life. 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 .From 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 tell 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 of Chaucer's poetic career is significant. It helps us greatly in order to 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 principle 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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