“Homilies, sermons in prose and verse, translation of the Psalms or parts of the Bible……fill the pages which form the mass of what we may be called English literature until about the middle of the fourteenth century,” Rickett. And its first part is The Age of Chaucer (1340-1400), which “is the Age of unrest and transition, (Rickett).”
Of hertes hele and dedly woundes cure;
Through me men gon unto the welle of grace
in hope to standen in his lady grace.”
The most important thing that Chaucer did for English poetry was to bring a healthy realism to it. He brought poetry closer to nature, and or reality. He began as his contemporaries did, with dream visions and allegorical works. But gradually he reached the conclusion that nothing could be as nature herself. He comes to look upon the world of man. He set about reproducing it in his work. He became a painter of life in words. Chaucer’s broad and humane vision of life helped him in his portraiture of life. Sympathizing with the follies of men and women of average standards, he never riles and rants in his writings. He lets his character’s speak for themself. He is the pioneer of that set of people who look upon the world with indulgent, tolerant and amused eyes.
Chaucer is by universal consent the first great English humorist. His is a healthy humour like that of Shakespeare and Fielding that depends for its effect on strong commonsense. Chaucer had a sound mind and was capable of playing with humanity. He had so much sorrow in his life that could get down in his heart and weaken his intelligence or dim is sight. Chaucer had a free and open mind. He was not afraid, on occasion, of questioning even the ways of God to men. In The Knights’s Tale, he shows his poignant awareness of the baffling problem of pain and evil in the world. Chaucer found English a dry, uncouth brick but left it marble—beautiful and full of liquid luster. He found it a dialect and made it a Standard English of his own day. In his works, he appears as a great picture painter, as an observer whose aim was to see and not to reform, and as a representative of his century.
He was a great reformer and observer of men and had an extraordinary insight into human nature. “Chaucer sees things”, writes Legouis, “as they are, and paints them as he sees them.” He saw all sorts of men—rogues, hypocrites and posers—and had a soft corner in his heart for all of them. All of Chaucer’s characters are true to life and cause willing suspension of disbelief. Chaucer considered the first poet of English literature. In his poetry we find the great qualities of simplicity, clarity, melody and harmony which arouse fellow feeling and brotherly affection in the heart of the reader. Chaucer’s characters are a description of eternal principles” says Blake. They are not for one age but for all ages.
The world which Chaucer had created in the geography of imagination is as fresh as ever or even more fresh than the world in which we live. There is no doubt about Chaucer’s help to dramatist. Shakespeare is borrowing of a plot for one of his complicated plays, Troilus and Cressida from Chaucer’s Troilus and Cressida. Chaucer’s The Prologue may be described as “a novel of miniature”. It ahs an unrivalled richness and variety in the characterization, an abundant fund of humour, and a full representation of real life. He had the sweetness of Goldsmith, the compassionate realism and humour of Fielding, and the high chivalrous tone of Scott. Thus we follow the point fro Chesterton, that “There was ever a man who was more of a Maker than Chaucer.” Shakespeare and Milton were the greatest sons of their country; but Chaucer was the father of his country.