Geoffrey Chaucer as a father of English Poetry

It was John Dryden who gave the veneration “fatherhood of English poetry” to Chaucer in his work “Preface to the Fables: Ancient and Modern”. Similarly, Matthew Arnold eulogizes Chaucer by stating that with Chaucer our real poetry is born. Chaucer has been considered as the forerunner of versification, poetry, realism, characterization, and humor. 

Truthful representation of his time:

Chaucer is called “the earliest of all moderns” by Edward Albert, and his modernism is best expressed in his realism. Chaucer renounced the established concept of ideality and fantasy. Before Chaucer, the royal families, battles, and heroes were the main subjects for the poets but Chaucer dismissed this convention and emphasized on reality. Chaucer realistically represented 14th century England in his masterpiece work “The Canterbury Tales”. All twenty-nine pilgrims in the poem belong to a different group, occupation, and class. Chaucer’s main purpose of writing “The Canterbury Tales” was to depict men and women realistically without any magnification and to show an accurate portrait of mankind. Chaucer shows how the clergymen, the monk, and the Franklin invest their time in corruption and pleasure seeking rather than in religious duties. In this way, he realistically presents the political condition, medical profession, chivalry, and economic conditions of that time. 

Read More: The Canterbury Tales as a social commentary of the Age

Through his poem, we get a sense of medieval life through a range of characters that he portrayed for us. We have, for instance, certain characters from the old feudal order including The Knight, The Squire, The Yeoman, and The Plowman. Then we have the characters from the Merchant class: The Merchant, The Man of Law, The Guildsman, The Cook, etc. And then we have characters from the ecclesiastical class: The Prioress, The Monk, The Friar, Pardoner, etc. 

Chaucer’s narrative style in character portrayal:

Chaucer is hugely admired for his narrative technique. The most distinctive element of Chaucer’s narration is his awareness and perception of artistic detachment from his characters and subjects. The poets before him handled characters but those were restricted and did not find any range and sphere for individualistic and independent development, on the other hand, Chaucer very wisely, prefers to be a background voice, while letting his characters develop. Chaucer chose to be a narrator through the mouth of his characters. Chaucer’s characters not only represent their class in the society but they are also individuals. For example, The Monk not only represents the religious class of his society but he also loves to ride. So Chaucer with his narrative style presents his characters’ positions, etiquettes, and behaviors so artfully that they turn viable before our eyes.   

Read More: Renaissance in English Literature

Chaucer’s polished and refined humor:

In the truest sense, Chaucer is the earliest humorist in English literature. Chaucer is a philanthropist, an admirer, and a lover of mankind. To some extent, Chaucer’s humor is similar to Shakespeare’s humor. His humor is polished and civilized. In “Prologue to the Canterbury Tales”, for example, we do have examples of refined and sophisticated humor: We laugh at the leanness of the Clerk and of his horse whom Chaucer compared to a rake, and at the Squire’s excessive lovesickness. Chaucer’s humor changed to semi-farcical when he described Wife of Bath. Wife of Bath was gap-toothed and a little hearing impaired. Besides her other companies in her youth, Wife of Bath had five husbands at the church door. Chaucer’s main purpose in using this type of comedy or banter is laughter for end in itself. The humor of Chaucer is not stained with harsh satire. 

Chaucer used humor not only on characters but also on general setting. We can see the best example of this in Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales”. The pilgrims of “The Canterbury Tales” were not behaving like Pilgrims, but they were behaving as if they were members of the comus. They yelled and blamed each other, and at times also praised each other. In that way a humor of action pervades the entire poem.  

Chaucer and English Language:

Chaucer is regarded as the first national poet of England because he liberated himself from non-native languages. Chaucer’s other contemporary writers like Gower used Latin and French as the medium for his art, but Chaucer spent his life on the growth and development of his native language. He modified the East Midland dialect into a complete language of England. 

 During Chaucer’s time, poetry was still in its early days. He forged several assessments in versification and provided it a new shape. In the ancient alliteration, the syllable’s number was irregular, but Chaucer rejected this method of irregularity in number and presented a new one, which contained a regular number of syllables and end rhymes. 

Chaucerian Stanza:

Chaucer is also well-known for his stanza form, so-called Chaucerian Stanza. It is a stanza of seven lines consisting of an octosyllabic meter. The rhyme scheme of the Chaucerian stanza is aba bb cc. Chaucer employed this type of stanza in his work “The Book of the Duchesse”. Chaucerian Stanza is also identified as rhyme royal for the reason that King James I also employed this Chaucerian Stanza in one of his poems “King Quair ”. Chaucer is also considered as the inventor of the heroic couplet which he extensively used in his “Prologue to the Canterbury Tales” and later on by his followers like Dryden and Pope. 


We can sum up Chaucer’s accomplishment and significance by declaring that Chaucer is the forerunner of the great moderns. He expanded the horizon and scope of the poet, portrayed every tiny impression of life, offered an authentic and realistic illustration of his times, mastered in character portrayal, pathos, narration, humor, and notably handed over a new shape and structure to language and versification. Chaucer is rightly the father of English poetry and language.  

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