Canterbury Tales

Canterbury Tales

Canterbury Tales

Canterbury Tales

Excerpt

Poets born on the edge of a new era stand in peculiar danger of being misunderstood and depreciated by the generations that follow. Since time never stands still, and one age is forever melting into the next, any poet has to take a rather desperate chance of appealing to readers beyond his own day. There is always the possibility, to be sure, that he may be more highly esteemed than by his contemporaries—a faint hope that has buoyed up many who were destined to drown in the waters of oblivion— but this does not often happen. The inevitable revaluation usually marks the poet down to a lower figure. Sometimes he has to wait a few centuries before he is understood and appreciated again. John Donne is an example in point. If the shift of ideas and taste can be so upsetting, what is likely to be the fate of a poet who happens to write while his medium of expression is in process of change? Suppose the form of verbs and nouns is altered, suppose some pronouns go out and others come in, suppose the habits of speech and the meaning of words become very different within a century or so after he dies. His chances of continuing fame will be by that much more reduced. If he continues in high repute, it must be because of qualities in his work that can be seen and appreciated despite difficulties of language as well as changes of opinion and taste.

Geoffrey Chaucer met triumphantly both these tests. He had perfected from the speech of educated folk in London at his time a poetical instrument as flexible and melodious, as capable of expressing a . . .

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