Gracee and the Butterfly Ball

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I am so sory, now that ye be light; For certes, but ye make me hevy chere. The Complaint of Chaucer to his Empty Purse. Professor Ten Brink believes this poem to have been addressed to King Richard, but Professor Skeat has no doubt that it was addressed to Henry. This new outburst of good fortune promised well for the future, and Chaucer evidently looked forward to a prosperous and comfortable old age, for, on December 24, , he took the lease of a house in the garden of St. One of his later ballades, Truth may well serve as epitaph for the poet whom court life could never corrupt into a courtier, and whose clear sight and sharp wit never led him into bitterness or cynicism:—.

That thee is sent, receyve in buxumnesse, [25] The wrastling for this worlde axeth a fal. Her nis non hoom, [26] her nis but wildernesse: Forth pilgrim, forth!

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Forth beste out of thy stal! Know thy contree, look up, thank God of al; Hold the hye way, and lat thygost thee lede: [27]. And trouthe shal delivre, hit is no drede. When Chaucer began to write, English literature was at a low ebb. The Norman Conquest had practically killed the old alliterative poetry, and the passion and mysticism of Old English epic and lament had given way to the prim didacticism of interminable homilies in verse, or the jog-trot respectability of rhymed chronicles.

What hard heart could refuse to be touched by the difficulties which that saintly hermit Richard Rolle of Hampole had evidently experienced in distinguishing the sex of a baby, or to share in the triumph with which he suggests a solution of the difficulty:—. But delightful as this is, it is not poetry. In the middle of the fourteenth century come the notable exceptions of Sir Gawayne , The Pearl , and Piers Plowman , but by this time we are already drawing near the era of [Pg 34] Chaucer himself.

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His poor Parson dismisses the popular alliterative verse of the day contemptuously enough:—. As a matter of fact, the lyric verse which lightens up the three hundred years from the Conquest to Chaucer, has a daintiness and grace which show that the poetic sense of England was by no means dead. Sumer is icumen in, Lenten is come with love to toune, Of one that is so fair and bright , and numberless other songs with which recent anthologies have made everyone familiar are sufficient evidence of this. But these are chance flowers blossoming haphazard beside the dusty highway.

One well-beaten track, it is true, does lead us through green glades and meadows enamelled with eye-pleasing flowers to the mysterious depths of enchanted forests haunted by fell enchanters and baleful [Pg 35] dragons, but the metrical romances are for the most part more or less direct translations from French originals, and show little that is distinctively English, beyond a tendency to cut the sentiment and come to the story. To French influence also we owe the development of satire. There are rivers great and fine Of oil, of milk, honey, and wine.

Water serveth there for nothing Save to look at, and for washing:. The prose of the period is still less inspiring than the poetry. Not even Chaucer discovered that prose-writing is an art. Works of any importance were written in Latin, and such English prose as there was, consisted in sermons, lives of the saints, etc. Now and then some author happens upon a telling phrase or an apt illustration, but such instances are few and obviously accidental.

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Different dialects prevailed in different parts of the country, but they were at least varieties of English, and English was the language of the people as a whole. French, whether of Paris or of Stratford atte Bowe, was learned as a foreign tongue, although as late as the end of the fourteenth century we still find Gower writing indifferently in Latin, French, and English.

It needed only that there should arise an author great enough to establish some one dialect—or combination of dialects—as standard English, and this creation of language from dialect, we owe—among other things—in large measure to Chaucer. London was already the centre of English trade and industry, and the circumstances of its position, which brought its inhabitants into contact with both Northerners and Southerners, made its dialect particularly suitable for the standard language of the country. The modern reader who turns over the pages of [Pg 38] the Ayenbite of Inwit or the Ancren Riwle finds himself confronted by what is practically a foreign tongue; it is excusable if he finds even Piers Plowman baffling in places, and has difficulty in construing such passages as:—.


We may have to look up a word here and there in the glossary, or find ourselves puzzled by some astronomical or chemical terms, but these are merely by the way, and Chaucer fairly lays claim to the title of Father, not only of English poetry, but of modern English. In metre his work is no less remarkable. The so-called Chaucerian stanza consists of seven lines of iambic verse rhyming ababbcc — e.

It is a modification of a form used by Boccaccio, and was itself possibly used by Spenser as the basis of his peculiar stanza. The point of the whole matter, however, lies, not in whether Chaucer was indebted to French or Italian [Pg 40] sources for his metres, but in the fact that he revealed the latent possibilities of English as a poetic medium. French, as we have seen, had long been the dominant influence in English literature. To French erotic poetry we owe the elaborate code of duties owed by husband to wife and lover to mistress, and the whole artificial convention which prescribed unhappy love affairs and revelled in the minute analysis of over-strained emotion.

The poet protests so much that it is difficult to believe that he is describing anything more than a lover bewailing his unhappy lot in the French fashion. Evidently French love-poetry appealed strongly to his imagination, for one of his earliest works is a translation of the famous Romance of the Rose. This long, allegorical poem the original consists of over 22, lines , falls into two parts. The first, by Guillaume de Lorris, describes the search of the ideal lover for the mystic rose.

The hero is admitted by the portress Idleness into a fair garden of flowers, where he finds Sir Mirth, Lady Courtesy, Dame Gladness, and many another gallant and debonair knight and lady. In this garden is the enchanted Well of Love, in whose depths the lover beholds the image of the Rose. He tries to seize it, and finds that a hard struggle lies before him ere he can hope to win the prize of love.

Lorris left the poem unfinished, and the second part was added by Jean le Meung, a cynic with no very high opinion of women or of love. He introduces a sceptical friend who has a long conversation [Pg 42] with the lover in which he points out with extreme clearness the drawbacks of marriage and the frailties of women. The English version of the poem consists of three fragments, A, B, and C it is only 7, lines in all , and scholars are divided in opinion as to how much of the translation is actually by Chaucer himself.

Professor Saintsbury, in the Cambridge History of Literature considers that Chaucer is probably the author of A, possibly the author of B, and probably not the author of C. He must, however, have been known as the translator of the later part, for in the Prologue to the Legend of Good Women written about , the god of love scolds the poet severely on the ground,—. Thou hast translated the Romauns of the Rose That is an hereyse ageyns my lawe.

Another early work is the A. Whatever the facts about this particular poem may be, it is interesting to notice that even in these early days Chaucer combined some of the qualities of a satirist with those of an idealist.

The Book of the Duchesse makes no pretence to originality of treatment. The poet, after a conventional lament over the conventional hard-heartedness of his mistress, falls into a conventional slumber in the course of which he has a conventional dream that he is following a conventional hunt in a conventional forest. Here he meets a handsome young man. Hit was gret wonder that nature Might suffre n any creature To have swich sorwe and be not deed.

Is that your los? Every poet of the day finds himself wandering in a forest, but Chaucer alone meets. A whelp that fauned me as I stood, That hadde y-followed, and coude no good, Hit com and creep to me as lowe, Right as hit hadde me y-knowe, Hild doun his heed and joyned his eres And leyde al smothe doun his heres;. The praises of many fair ladies were sung by troubadour and minstrel, but it would be hard to find another heroine possessed of the gaiety and vigour and charm of Blanche:—. A number of experiments in verse follow. Chaucer had a habit of rough-casting a poem, then leaving it for some time, and eventually using it in a more or less modified form in some later work.

The story of Ceys and Alcioun , which forms part of the introduction to the Book of the Duchesse , originally appears to have been written as a separate poem, and between and we find no fewer than seven works, in prose and poetry, which were afterwards embodied in the Canterbury Tales : the Lyf of St.

Apart from Troilus and Criseyde and the poems afterwards used in the Canterbury Tales , none of these works are of any great importance in themselves, but in them we see a steady development in technical skill. The verse of the Book of the Duchesse is easy and flowing but not distinguished.

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Chaucer tries his hand at roundels and balades, at narrative poetry and love laments, and the result is that he attains a suppleness and melody unknown to his predecessors and unfortunately ignored by his immediate successors. The music of his verse is not the least of his contributions to a literature, whose exponents could placidly remark. And trouthe of metre I sette also a-syde; For of that art I hadde as tho no guyde Me to reduce when I went a-wronge: I toke none hede nouther of shorte nor longe.

In , as we have seen, Chaucer went to Italy, and the influence of Italian poetry upon him can hardly be exaggerated. Professor Ten Brink believes that the influence of Dante was largely responsible for a sudden quickening and deepening of religious feeling in Chaucer, and he attributes the A. Whether he is right or wrong in this respect and Professor Skeat dates both the A. Of him that stood in greet prosperitee And is y-fallen out of heigh degree Into miserie, and endeth wrecchedly,. Of Petrarch he speaks with admiration in the preface to the tale which he borrows from him, but except for a translation of the eighty-eighth sonnet which is inserted in Book I of Troilus and Criseyde , under the heading Cantus Troili , there is little evidence of any direct influence.

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From Boccaccio he borrowed freely, with a royal bettering in the borrowing. In Chaucer produced another topical poem. So far he had addressed himself to John of Gaunt—for whom not only the Book of the Duchesse , but the scandalous Compleint of Mars is said to have been written; now he addresses King Richard, and after the fashion of the day clothes in allegorical compliment the story of his wooing of Anne of Bohemia, who had twice before been engaged to other suitors.

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The wedding festivities lasted over February 14, when St. Valentine marries every year,. The lyric lark, and the grave whispering dove, The sparrow that neglects his life for love, The household bird with the red stomacher;. Chaucer saluted his king and queen in the Parlement of Foules , which though partially based on the fabliau of Hucline and Eglantine and containing passages from Dante [Pg 51] and Boccaccio, is in all essentials a thoroughly original work.

The poet, as usual, falls asleep and has a dream. He is taken by Scipio Africanus he had just been reading the Somnium Scipionis , to the gate of a park which he is told none but the servants of Love may enter. Although he himself is but dull and has lost the taste of love he is permitted to see what passes in order that he may describe it, and is led into a beautiful garden in which many fair ladies, such as Beautee and Jolyte, are disporting themselves under the eye of Cupid. A number of women are dancing round a temple of brass, before whose door. A long description of the temple and its occupants Venus, Bacchus, Ceres, etc.

Upon her hand she holds. Before the formel eagle has summoned up sufficient courage to give her answer,.

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  6. And hardly has he finished when a third eagle puts forward his claim. The various birds are called upon for their advice, and after a great deal of chattering and confusion, Nature finally decrees that the choice is to lie with the formel eagle herself. But first were chosen foules for to singe As yeer by yere was always hir usaunce To singe a roundel at hir departinge To do Nature honour and pleasunce,.

    The Parlement of Foules was followed by the Hous of Fame. Here again Chaucer makes use of the conventional stock-in-trade of medieval poets. We have the dream, the strings of proper names drawn from Ovid and Virgil and the Bible, the constant moralisations, the temple to which the dreamer is guided, the use of allegory and symbol, all of which are common property. The influence of Dante is evident, and shows itself in detail as well as in the conception of the whole.