WHILE greatly susceptible to the influence of his reading, Geoffrey Chaucer was a poet who rarely wrote without an experimental or innovative purpose or result. Chaucer's intellectual and literary curiosity and receptivity contributed an indispensable source of strength to his performance as a writer. The major achievements of his career, from such early dream visions as The Book of the Duchess ( 1368- 1372) and The Parliament of Fowls ( 1380- 1382) to the Troilus ( 1382- 1386) and The Canterbury Tales ( 1388- 1400), as well as unfinished works like The House of Fame ( 1378- 1380) and The Legend of Good Women ( 1385- 1386), which he appears to have abandoned for new projects of greater promise, all share qualities that reveal the unique nature of the Chaucerian enterprise. These qualities include a magisterial command of poetic line and literary form, a superb sense of mimesis and story telling, and an unrivaled gift for characterization and portraiture. His power as a narrative poet can be matched by a rare lyrical intensity, as in the artful introduction of several lyric passages in the Troilus at critical moments in its action. A keen ironist with a manysided sense of humor, Chaucer explores the relationship between art and life as has no other poet before or after him.
Impressed by the energies and inquiries of his predecessor poets, both ancient and medieval, Chaucer moves along a path that at first glance looks familiar but which has actually never before been taken. Whatever may have fueled its beginnings, the Chaucerian poem, even when left unfinished, drives on its own course to its own destination. If the term avant-garde denotes the development of new and experimen-