History of English Literature: Part-5

in Chaucer’s earlier work such as the translation of the Rome and of the rose if that be his the book of the Duchess the Parliament of fowls the house of Fame as well as in the legend of good women which was later the inspiration of the French Court poetry of the 13th and 14th centuries is manifest he retains in them the medieval machinery of allegories and dreams the elaborate descriptions of palaces temples portraitures etc which had been made fashionable in France by such poems as Guillaume Dolores as of omens Villa hos and Gemma shows Lewontin amigas in some of these the influence of Italian poetry is also perceptible there are suggestions from Dante for example in the Parliament of fowls and the house of Fame and Troilus and Cressida is a free handling rather than a translation of focaccia is philostrate Oh in all of these there are passages of great beauty and Force had Chaucer written nothing else he would still have been remembered as the most accomplished English poet of his time but he would not have risen to the rank which he now occupies as one of the greatest English poets of all time this position he owes to his masterpiece The Canterbury Tales here he abandoned the imitation of foreign models and the artificial literary fashions of his age and wrote of real life from his own ripe knowledge of men and things The Canterbury Tales are a collection of stories written at different times but put together probably toward the close of his life the framework into which they are fitted is one of the happiest ever devised a number of pilgrims who were going on horseback to the shrine of st. thomas a becket at canterbury meet at the Tabard Inn in south work a suburb of London the jolly host of the Tabard Harry Bailey proposes that on their way to Canterbury each of the company shall tell two tales and two more on their way back and that the one who tells the best shall have a supper at the cost of the rest when they return to the inn he himself accompanies them as judge and reporter in the setting of the stories there is thus a constant feeling of movement and the air of all outdoors the little head links and end links which bind them together give incidents of the journey and glimpses of the talk of the pilgrims sometimes amounting as in the prologue of the Wife of Bath too full and almost dramatic character sketches the stories to are dramatically suited to the narrator’s the general prologue is a series of such character sketches the most perfect in English poetry the portraits of the pilgrims are illuminated with the soft brilliancy and the minut loving fidelity of the miniatures and the old missiles and with the same quaint precision in traits of expression and in costume the pilgrims are not all such as one would meet nowadays at an English in the presence of a knight a squire a yeoman Archer and especially of so many kinds of ecclesiastics anon a friar a monk a partner and a salt nor or a parrot or reminds us that the England of that day must have been less like Protestant England as we know it then like the Italy of some thirty years ago but however the outward face of society may have changed the Canterbury pilgrims remain in Chaucer’s description living and universal types of human nature The Canterbury Tales are 24 in number there were 32 pilgrims so that if finished as designed the whole collection would have numbered 128 stories Chaucer is the bright consummate flower of the English middle age like many another great poet he put the final touch to the various literary forms that he found in cultivation thus his Knight’s Tale based on Boccaccio’s to Sade is the best of English medieval romances and yet the rhyme of sir thopas who goes seeking an elf queen for his mate and is encountered by this giant Sir Oliphant burlesque’s these same romances with their impossible adventures and their tedious rambling descriptions the tales of the Prioress and the second none are Saints legends the monks tale is a set of dry moral epilogues in the manner of his contemporary the moral Gower the stories told by the Reeve Miller friar tsampa noir Shipman and merchant belonged to the class of fab Leo a few of which existed in English such as Dame Suri’s the lay of the ash and the land of Cockaigne you already mentioned the nun priest’s tale likewise which dried and modernized with admirable humor was of the class of fab leo and was suggested by a little poem in 40 lines du Coq ffp by marie de france a norman poetess of the 13th century it belonged like the early for english poem of the Fox and the wolf to the popular animal saga of Granada the Fox the Franklin’s tale who’s seen as Brittany and the wife of bath’s tale which is laid in the time of the British Arthur belong to the class of French lay serious metrical tales shorter than the romance and of Breton origin the best representatives of which are the elegant and graceful leis of makida Falls Chaucer was our first great master of laughter and of Tears his serious poetry is full of the tenderest pathos his loosest tales are delightfully humorous and lifelike he is the kind lace of satyrs the knavery greed and hypocrisy of the begging friars and the sellers of indulgences are exposed by him as pitilessly as by langland and Wycliffe though his mood is not like there is one of stir and moral indignation but rather the good-natured scorn of a man of the world his charity is broad enough to cover even the corrupt sampler of whom he says and yet in sooth he was a good fellow whether he shared Wyclef’s opinions is unknown but John of God the Duke of Lancaster and father of Henry the fourth who was Chaucer’s lifelong patron was likewise Wyclef’s great upholder against the persecution of the bishops it is perhaps not without significance that the poor parson in The Canterbury Tales the only one of his ecclesiastical pilgrims whom Chaucer treats with respect is suspected by the host of the tavern to be a Lawler that is a lard or disciple of Wycliffe and that because he objects jovial innkeeper swearing by God’s bones Chaucer’s English is nearly as easy for a modern reader as shakespeare’s and few of his words have become obsolete his verse when rightly read is correct and melodious the early English was in some respects more sweet upon the tongue than the modern language the vowels had their broad italian sounds and the speech was full of soft gutturals and Michalik syllables like the endings in in is and a which made feminine rhymes and kept the consonants from coming partially together great poetess Chaucer was he was not quite free from the literary weakness of his time he relapses sometimes into the babbling style of the old chroniclers and legend writers cite sock tours and gives long catalogs of names and objects with a naive display of learning and introduces vulgar details in his most exquisite passages there is something childish about almost all the thought and art of the Middle Ages at least outside of Italy where classical models and traditions never quite lost their hold but Chaucer’s artlessness is half the secret of his wonderful ease in storytelling and is so engaging that like a child sweet unconsciousness one would not wish it otherwise The Canterbury Tales had shown of what high uses the English language was capable but the curiously trilingual condition of literature still continued French was spoken in the proceedings of parliament as late as the reign of Henry the sixth 1422 to 1471 Chaucer’s contemporary John Gower wrote his Vox Clemente’s in Latin his speculum mettaton teased a lost poem and a number of ballads in Parisian French and his confessor amantes 1393 in English the last-named is a dreary pedantic work in some 15,000 smooth monotonous eighth syllable couplets in which condom or instructs the lover how to get the love of bel Pucelle  [Music] you

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