Geoffrey Chaucer as a Father of English Poetry
Geoffrey Chaucer is called the father of English poetry. He symbolizes the Middle Ages, as no other writer does. He stands in much the same relation to the life of his time as Alexander Pope does to the 18th century and Tennyson to the Victorian era. Chaucer’s place in English literature is more important than both of them. He is the first great English writer. His work is divided into three different phases;
In his first phase, he was under the influence of the French (1357-72).
The second phase was under the influence of Italian (1372-86).
The third phase of his life was that he focused on the native originality and produced his own literature in English (1386-1400).
Literature was not published or not in people’s approach before him. There was the government of Normans in Britain, which came there from France, therefore, French was the official language and Latin was the language of religious people and of church because their Holy book ‘Bible’ was in Latin. Chaucer was the first person to introduce modern English language in Britain.
At that time, there were four dialects of English used in Britain.
In London, there was midland dialect. Chaucer picked out this midland and made his standard in this dialect. He used embellished and ornamented words in his poetry that people liked a lot. And the next generation used this type of words in their writings and people used to speak these modern words in their daily language that Chaucer introduced in his writings. The Canterbury Tales is a landmark in Chaucer’s life and he is well-known for it.
Chaucer is also a pioneer of English novel. In his Troilus and Criseyde and The Canterbury Tales, we can find the seeds of novel. He was called first novelist, even before the appearance of novel in Britain and he was also called the first dramatist even before the appearance of drama in Britain. That’s why he is also called the Father of English literature. But he is well-known for his poetry.
Characteristics of Chaucer’s Poetry:
Chaucer had a very busy career as a man of affairs, poetry for him was necessarily a part-time activity. Chaucer made several contributions to English poetry. He tried to enlarge the range, scope and mentality of the poets, introduced very close observations of the life around him, presented the crystal clear picture of the conditions of his times through his writings, excelled in characterization and above all gave a new shape to English language and poetry. With these contributions, he remains at the top of the history of English literature, and no one can challenge his position.There are several features of his poetry.
· The First great National Poet
Chaucer was the first great national poet. He expressed the new hopes and aspiration of the people of his time. The foundation of Chaucer’s art lies in English life and character.
Realism attempts to describe life without idealization. Chaucer was the first realist in English literature. He rejected the themes of traditional concept of fantasy and ideality. Before him, the war, heroes and the royal family were the main topics for the poets, but Chaucer broke this chain and focused on reality. Everything in his Canterbury Tales was from life. He was a good observer; he saw the appearance, dress and behavior of pilgrims very deeply. He painted as it is what he observed.
· Narrative Skill
Chaucer is highly appreciated for his narrative skill. His power as a narrator, the power to tell an interesting story is simply astounding. He is the first great English story-teller in verse form. His employment of verse as the vehicle of storytelling is the most memorable contribution and the modern English literature is greatly thankful to him in this respect. His Canterbury Tales is actually a collection of excellently narrated stories.
He is regarded as the first great English humorist. No English literary work before him expressed humor in the modern sense. That was serious and based on heroic deeds. Chaucer’s humor is always sympathetic, natural and spontaneous.
· Art of Characterization
In English literature Chaucer is the first great painter of characters. He presents his character in a masterly manner. He presents his characters both individually and in the forms of types.
William Blake views that the characters of Chaucer’s pilgrims are the character which compose all ages and nations. The Knight, the Friar, the Wife of Bath, the Doctor of Physic, the Prioress, the Monk, the Merchant and many others are living and eternally fresh and their features symbolize the qualities of universal human life. Such characterization gave the guideline to the upcoming writers.
· Iambic Pentameter and Rhyme-Royal
The credit of the use of rhyme-royal for the first time in English literature goes to Chaucer. Rhyme-royal is also called the Chaucerian stanza; the stanza of seven lines with rhyming scheme of ABABBCC. He borrowed this technique from France. King James I of Scotland in 15th century used this stanza in his famous poem “King Quair”.
When five stress syllables are used in a verse of poetry, then it is called pentameter. Iambic pentameter means ‘rhythm of five patterns of syllables’.
e.g. “Grave nods at grove, each alley has a brother.”
· Humanistic Outlook
Poetry portrays not merely the art and artificiality of age, rather it hints at humanistic outlook as well. This reflection of humanity in poetry starts with Chaucerian literature. His descriptions of his fellowmen express his wide humanity and prepare the way for Shakespeare. He has no hate for the fools and no distaste for rascals. He is the poet of humanity.
Chaucer also introduced the rhyming couplet in the end of every stanza.
To wind up the above discussion, we may say that he stands alone and no one climbs equally with him. It can be said that Chaucer, with his remarkable, impressive and comprehensive literary works, has remained till now not to be exceeded. English language and literature became mature because of Chaucer’s production. So, he is called “father of English Poetry”.