Chaucer's Native Heritage

Chaucer's Native Heritage

Chaucer's Native Heritage

Chaucer's Native Heritage

Excerpt

Geoffrey Chaucer occupies a crucial place in the history of English literature. He is our first major poet. His poetry has survived both the linguistic changes and the changes in literary taste and fashion wrought by time. From his day to our own, poet and scholar, literary critic and historian, casual reader and conscientious student--virtually all have been unanimous in their praise. It is not surprising then that Chaucer has come to be commonly regarded as "the father of our splendid English poetry."

For many literary historians modern English poetry begins with Chaucer. This view is supported by the underlying assumption that Chaucer's greatest achievement was to "civilize," so to speak, English poetry by introducing into it and naturalizing many of the forms and modes of continental literature, thereby laying the foundation for future generations of English poets. Particularly emphasized is the importance of French poetry for Chaucer in this regard. Albert C. Baugh's comments are fairly typical: "Others had translated and adapted French works before, but nobody else, either in his [Chaucer's] day or before or after his day, so completely transferred to English the whole spirit of polite literature in Europe." Consequently, the tendency has been to depict Chaucer as a poetic genius, gifted with a natural talent, who, nourished first by French literature, then by Italian literature, produced his earlier poetry under their respective influences. Then, during his later years, having fully digested these foreign sources, he created his masterpiece, The Canterbury Tales.

For many years the standard textbook approach for dealing with the development of Chaucer's art was to consider his literary career as falling into three major periods--his French period, his Italian period, and his English period. Because Chaucer's earlier poetry--many of his extant lyrics, The Book of the Duchess, The House of Fame, The Parliament of Fowls--is so very much indebted to French sources, it was convenient to . . .

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