Geoffrey Chaucer as a Medieval and Modern Poet | A Poet of Both Ages

Geoffrey Chaucer as a Medieval and Modern Poet

Several reasons are there due to which French said “in his [ Geoffrey Chaucer ] poetry we find the essential spirit of both the age that was passing [ medieval ] and of the age that was to come [ modern ].” Many centuries ago, he considered Chaucer a poet for both the ages; age of Chaucer and the modern age. Meaning thereby that he considered Geoffrey Chaucer a medieval and modern poet.

The poet Geoffrey Chaucer born and lived at that time when medieval age was about to end and modern one was about to start. Even then he represented medieval age and people from his surroundings. He is often called representative of his age. However, his approach of representation does not limit his times. Element of universality is there in his poetry and better discussion is available with respect to modernity in it. In this way, it is not wrong to say that Geoffrey Chaucer becomes a poet of connected link between the medieval and modern wolds so far as English poetry is concerned.

Chaucer as a Medieval Poet:

“The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales” is best example that shows Chaucer’s remarkable contribution in representation of his age. He has concluded his whole society in this book. Through a picture gallery of different types of people who were living in medieval ages he shows society of his own. Nonetheless, his portrait is not mute. He puts feelings in it due to which readers can feel what Chaucer wants to display through his book “The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales”.

First of all it is necessary to remember that medieval ages underwent different social and political problems. Particularly during the middle ages, people faced many difficulties and suffered because of disasters. Such as famine, war and plague. All these disasters significantly reduced Europe’s population. Between the year 1347 and 1350, black deaths killed about a 1/3 population of Europe. Several conflicts emerged that caused destruction especially within the catholic church. Besides, the international conflict between the heresy and Western religion, civil wars and peasant uprisings are also mentionable. Cultural and technological developments changed European society, ended the Middle Ages, and began the early modern period.

No Political Issue:

Chaucer lived during the above said period. He saw all that with his own eyes but still we do not find any political and economical issues in his work. “The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales” is a collection of different stories that have no concern whatsoever with political lives of people. In this book we meet with people of different professions, who are going to the shrine of St. Becket. Apparently, it seems that they are going to reduce religious burden but in reality their mood is not religious at all. They never talk about Jesus or the saint whose shrine they were going to visit. They in friendly atmosphere laughs and feels the beauty of their journey without any hesitation.

Unbiased View:

Regardless of that Chaucer could not hide his society from people. Each character symbolizes something and in hidden words conveys a message. We meet at least one individual from every class of 14th century. For instance, Knight is symbol of chivalry and shows that people are suffering the disaster of war. Similarly, he has pointed out issues of churches through ecclesiastical class. He has also satirized the corruption of church through different characters. Likewise, he has portrayed every type of woman of his era. Traders and merchants show development and expansion. But the most important element that he has shown is the intellectual life. “The clerk” is most interested in books. Similarly, stories of different characters show their intellectual vision. It is the most important ingredient of middle ages (medieval ages).

In addition, there is a representation of greed of doctors. Chaucer in clear words say that during the pestilence people suffered but doctors become rich. Same is the case with greedy lawyers and merchants. Hence, from every angle, we observe representation of 14th century medieval age in the poetry of Geoffrey Chaucer.

Chaucer as a Modern Poet:

In order to prove that Chaucer is a modern poet, we do not need strong evidence. We are discussing Chaucer even today and it still appeals to us though he wrote poetry hundred years ago. It is enough to regard Geoffrey Chaucer as a modern and medieval poet. In year 1330, soon after the birth of Geoffrey Chaucer, Petrarch referred to pre-Christian times as antiqua (or “ancient”) and to the Christian period as nova (or “new”). Although his intention was not to show modernity in Chaucer’s poetry yet it does prove that modern age was started when Chaucer wrote poetry. Even otherwise, certain elements are there in the poetry of Geoffrey Chaucer that prove him a poet of Medieval and Modern ages. Some of them are:

  • Modern English
  • Introduction of modern metres
  • Modern problems
  • Real human beings

Modern English:

It is said that Chaucer used modern English in his poetry. Modern in the sense that he used the most appropriate Midland dialect and made it instinct. Due to his contribution, it became the standard. Furthermore, many words remained same till modern times. Sometimes, he is called father of English language due to language modernity.

Modern Metres:

In Chaucer’s days, majority of the writers used to write while using conventional alliterative verse. Chaucer was interested in studying French literature. As a result, he introduced rhyme and thirteen different metres in his poetry. It is also one of the major reasons Geoffrey Chaucer is called medieval and modern Poet.

Modern Problems:

Chaucer discusses modern problems rather universal problems. Many of the issues that Chaucer has pointed out through his work are still being faced by the people. For instance people are suffering due to war. In many countries, starvation is the biggest problems. Similarly, people are dying due to diseases. Due to these modern troubles, Geoffrey Chaucer becomes medieval as well as a modern poet.

Real Human Beings:

At last but not the least, Chaucer’s human beings are real. They are true to nature. We hardly find any exaggeration in Chaucer’s poetry. His characters are lively. It is one of the best characteristics of his poetry that appeals modern readers. Although sometimes we find difficulty in reading his poetry yet his method of introducing real human characters is impressing and forces us to believe and read his poetry. So, description of real human beings is also another attribute due to which poet Geoffrey Chaucer fits in all ages either it is Medieval or Modern.