Geoffrey Chaucer is considered among England’s influential poets. He was born in 1340 and lived for sixty years until 1400, when he died. He is a famous figure in English literature and is regarded as the founding father of English poetry. This is not to say that England was no poets or poetry prior to him. There were other poets during his period as well. However, their poetry is rarely read or liked. Chaucer’s poetry, on the other hand, is well-known around the world. According to Wallace (1), the predominant language during Chaucer’s time was Latin, therefore, he is indeed the founder of English poetry. Because he was the first English poet to write in a manner that is still recognizably English today. As a result of his government positions in France and Italy, he was able to come into direct touch with French and Italian masters of literature. Since Chaucer was a multi-talented genius, he had the opportunity to meet men from various walks of life, allowing him to generate such diverse poetry. Chaucer’s poetry work is separated into three main parts. The three sections are the first phase (French), the second phase (Italian), and the third phase (English).
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The Three Principal Phases
The First Phase
The first phase took place between 1358 and 1372 while he was in France and is called the French phase. Thus the writings in this period are inspired by French literature. This period marked the beginning of Chaucer’s poetic career and Wallace (15) describes it as being “immature”. His poetic writings are based on the original French compositions. Here are a few notable writings from this French period: The Book of the Duchesse, The Romance of the Rose, Complaint into Rity, The ABC, Queen Anelida, and Complaint of Mars. The Book of the Duchesse is his initial outstanding original poem. Johnson (119) identifies Romance of the Rose as the most classical poem of all Chaucer’s poems. It is a translation of Roman de la Rose written by Guillaume de Lorris. The Romance of the Rose, written in the 13th century, was perhaps the most legendary and significant dream vision of the Medieval Era. It tells the story of a young guy who confesses his love and endeavors to conquer a Rosebud. During that period, Rosebud served as a symbol for a cherished woman, and in this poem, it was because of her beauty and purity (Conklin and Simpson 255). It allegorically tells the story of how the young man (Dreamer) encounters and falls in love with a beautiful woman (the Rose).
The Second Phase
During the year 1372, Chaucer traveled to Italy and was impacted by Italian literature throughout this second phase. This second phase is also called the Italian period and it lasted until the year 1385 when he returned to England. This level shows a significant improvement over the previous one. The technical capacity in arranging the meters has improved, and there is a developing keenness of observation and a broader stretch of creativity. These three poets, Petrarch, Boccaccio, and Dante, had a profound influence on him. Chaucer’s poetry career in Italy recommends thorough and careful research of the Italian poets. By the end of this phase, Geoffrey composed his longest poem titled Troilus and Criseide. This is a love poem adopted from Boccacio’s poem (Wallace 51). His most famous poems from this Italian period are The Parliament of Fowls, The House of Fame, The Legend of Good Women, The Knight’s Tale, Anelida and Arcite, and Troillus and Criseyde.
The Parliament of Fowls has a strong start and displays Chaucer’s true comedic spirit in the portrayal of the birds. He utilizes the device of dream-vision that opens the opportunity to enter the world of birds to bring the philosophy of love. The House of Fame has three parts and is a fantasy poem where He is carried by a flying eagle. Troilus and Criseyde is a lengthy love poem that Chaucer borrowed from Boccaccio’s poem Il Filostrato, but it is unique in its focus on character and represents Chaucer’s improvement. Criseyde and Pan-darus are sophisticated figures who display a new level of psychological growth and demonstrate Chaucer’s expanding understanding of human motivations. Chaucer’s narrative poem, Troilus and Criseyde, is often considered to be his best piece of narration poetry. The rhyming stanzas are dexterous and beautiful, and the story’s tragedy is addressed with great feeling. Troilus and Criseyde is the poet’s most extensive masterpiece during this period. There are almost 8,000 lines in total and the poem is composed in rime royal. Rime royal is a form of rhyming words in stanzas originated by Chaucer. The Knight’s Tale and Troilus and Criseyde engage with the poetry of love and quest infused with both a feeling of bravery and dedication.
The Third Phase
The third phase of Geoffrey Chaucer’s poetic writing career took place between 1385 and 1390 and is also called the English period. During this final phase, Chaucer was affected by English literature (Johnson 133). The following are some of the phase’s most important poems: The Canterbury Tales, Lack of Steadfastness, Tale of Melibeus, the Tale of Parson, and the Complaint of Chaucer to His Empty Purse. It was during this time that he wrote his masterwork, The Canterbury Tales, one of the finest poems in the whole of literature. It is a collection of independent stories that he started writing in 1386 and continued until when he died in 1400 (Bhattacharya and Bhattacharya 95). Since it was the period in which He composed his greatest poem, this phase is termed the most important of the three. A journey to the altar of Thomas Becket at Canterbury, Kent, serves as the framing device. The trip is undertaken by thirty-two pilgrims who meet at the Tabard Inn. They all agree to compete in a storytelling competition while on the road, with Harry Bailly serving as the contest’s stage manager.
Using a pilgrimage as a framing device, Chaucer brings together people from all walks of life. The diversity of socioeconomic categories, and the storytelling competition’s device, allowed for the presentation of a wide range of literary genres, such as religious sermons, courtly romances, allegorical tales, and beast fables (Intelligent Education 55). The tales and links function to provide intricate portrayals of the pilgrims and present notable examples of short poetry narratives, such as the Lack of Steadfastness and the Complaint of Chaucer to His Empty Purse. As well as two prose expositions as displayed in Tale of Melibeus and the Tale of Parson. The Clerk’s Tale displays his literary talent, especially in the vivid description of the temple of Mars.
To conclude, Chaucer’s poetical career is segmented into three stages. The first phase takes place in France and marks the beginning of Chaucer’s poetic career and is labeled as “immature and elementary” (Wallace 15). The notable writings are The Book of the Duchesse, The Romance of the Rose, Complaint into Rity, The ABC, Queen Anelida, and Complaint of Mars. The main piece of writing is The Romance of the Rose and is a mere translation. The second phase is an improvement and shows advancement in the technical arrangement of meters (Johnson 67). Famous poems are The Parliament of Fowls, The House of Fame, The Legend of Good Women, The Knight’s Tale, Anelida and Arcite, and Troillus and Criseyde. The third phase marks the period when Chaucer’s poetry reaches “full maturity” (Intelligent Education 54). The important poems are The Canterbury Tales, Lack of Steadfastness, Tale of Melibeus, the Tale of Parson, and the Complaint of Chaucer to His Empty Purse. Chaucer’s masterwork, The Canterbury Tales, is “one of the finest poems” in the whole of literature (Bhattacharya and Bhattacharya 95). Therefore, the three stages depict Chaucer’s whole poetic career and they help readers understand his poetical works in totality.
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Bhattacharya, Arunodoy and Bhattacharya, Swagata. Handbook of English Literary History. Intelligent Education, 2015.
Conklin, Suzanne and Simpson, James. The Oxford Handbook of Chaucer. Oxford University Press, 2020.
Intelligent Education. Study Guide to The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. Intelligent Education, 2020.
Johnson, Ian. Geoffrey Chaucer in Context. Cambridge University Press, 2019.
Wallace, David. Geoffrey Chaucer. Oxford University Press, 2019.