The Floure and the Leafe and the Assembly of Ladies

The Floure and the Leafe and the Assembly of Ladies

The Floure and the Leafe and the Assembly of Ladies

The Floure and the Leafe and the Assembly of Ladies

Excerpt

The Flower and the Leaf was added by Thomas Speght to his collected edition of Chaucer's Works in 1598, and during the period of its inclusion in the canon the poem was much admired. It was paraphrased by Dryden and Wordsworth, singled out for special praise by Pope and Hazlitt, and, partly through Dryden's influence, by all the critics and historians of literature; it was the subject of a sonnet by Keats, and was generally regarded as the best of Chaucer's allegories, if not his best poem; and finally, in the last days of its glory (1868), subjects from the poem were chosen for inclusion in the Chaucer window in Westminster Abbey. About 1870 the poem was expelled from the canon, and, though some tried staunchly to retain it, by the end of the century its fall from grace was complete. Since then the poem has rarely been given the attention it deserves, and Skeat's slurs ('pretty', 'tinsel', 'flashy attractiveness') have died hard. To any student of Chaucer, of course, the poem is full of echoes, which is one of its many delights; but it is a good deal more than an imitation of Chaucer: the grace and charm of its evocation of an ideal world, the serenely sensible view of life implicit in its allegory, the ease and delicacy of the handling, a pervading sweet reasonableness-- all these will be immediately apparent to any reader, and give it the right to an independent existence outside an appendix to Chaucer. Further than this, The Flower and the Leaf, by working within the fixed tradition of the allegorical vision poem, shows how new life is breathed into a dying poetic convention, how the worn currency of generations of poets can be transmuted into the stuff of art, into pattern, beauty, and 'sentence'. The Flower and the Leaf imparts a bright lustre to a departing age, and is in no way eclipsed by Dryden's masterly paraphrase. It is hoped that the present edition, besides providing a text which has not been, in Saintsbury's phrase, 'vamped up to a possible or . . .

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