The Poet Chaucer

The Poet Chaucer

The Poet Chaucer

The Poet Chaucer

Excerpt

Geoffrey Chaucer is our greatest comic poet, and this study is an effort to discern the special gifts and accidents that made him so, ripening in him a full comic vision, at once essentially English and yet rooted in the whole culture of fourteenth-century Christendom.

It might be said that of all his gifts except that of an original genius the greatest was luck. Born in an age when our language was in solution but at a temperature to crystallize, Fortune chose him as the nucleus. Fortune disposed his birth in the right kind of family in the right part of England. Fortune sent him at the right moments to France and Italy, having elevated him to Court circles. And when other than poetical talents in him combined with this to ensure his positions of royal trust, and might have threatened his poetry with affluence and business, Fortune cast him down from favour a step or two (but not too far or for too long), leaving him with nothing to do but write The Canterbury Tales.

It is right to think of these as his greatest work, even if they do not reach so deeply into the heart of love as Troilus and Criseyde. But it is mistaken to treat them as a sudden and wholly unpredictable explosion of poetical power in a man who but for Troilus had only written minor poetry of little affinity with the Tales. It was an explosion, and it came late in his life, but the elements had long been preparing; his growth as a poet was gradual but unfaltering. So far as the chronology of his writings can be known or reasonably guessed, each suc-

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