About this poet

Geoffrey Chaucer was born in London sometime between 1340 and 1344 to John Chaucer and Agnes Copton. John Chaucer was an affluent wine merchant and deputy to the king's butler. Through his father's connections, Geoffrey held several positions early in his life, serving as a noblewoman's page, a courtier, a diplomat, a civil servant, and a collector of scrap metal. His early life and education were not strictly documented although it can be surmised from his works that he could read French, Latin, and Italian.

In 1359, Chaucer joined the English army's invasion of France during the Hundred Years' War and was taken prisoner; King Edward III of England paid his ransom in 1360. In 1366, Chaucer married Philipa de Roet, who was a lady-in-waiting to Edward III's wife. In 1367, Chaucer was given a life pension by the king, and began traveling abroad on diplomatic missions. During trips to Italy in 1372 and 1378, he discovered the works of Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch—each of which greatly influenced Chaucer's own literary endeavors.

Chaucer's early work is heavily influenced by love poetry of the French tradition, including the Romaunt of the Rose (c. 1370) and Saint Cecilia (c. 1373), later used as the "Second Nun's Tale" in the Canterbury Tales.

Chaucer was named Controller of Customs on wools, skins, and hides for the port of London in 1374, and continued in this post for twelve years. Around that time, Chaucer's period of Italian influence began, which includes transitional works such as Anelida and Arcite (c. 1379), Parlement of Foules (c. 1382), and Troilus and Criseyde (c. 1385). Chaucer established residence in Kent, where he was elected a justice of the peace and a member of Parliament in 1386. His wife died the following year.

His period of artistic maturity is considered to begin at this time, marked by the writing of the General Prologue of the Canterbury Tales, which Chaucer continued to work on for many years—most likely until his death in 1400. Considered a cultural touchstone, if not the very wellspring of literature in the English language, Chaucer's tales gather twenty-nine archetypes of late-medieval English society and present them with insight and humor.

Now considered the "Father of English literature," Chaucer wrote in the English vernacular while court poetry was still being written in Anglo-Norman or Latin. The decasyllabic couplet Chaucer used for most of the Canterbury Tales later evolved into the heroic couplet, commonly used for epic and narrative poetry in English. Chaucer is also credited with pioneering the regular use of iambic pentameter.

As the American poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his essay "The Poet" in 1844: "...the rich poets, such as Homer, Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Raphael, have obviously no limits to their works, except the limits of their lifetime, and resemble a mirror carried through the street, ready to render an image of every created thing."

Until less than a year before his death, Chaucer remained Clerk of Works of the Palace of Westminster. He leased a tenement in the garden of the Lady Chapel of Westminster Abbey. After his death, he was buried at the entrance to the chapel of St. Benedict, in the South Transept. In 1556, a monument was erected in Chaucer's honor. When the Elizabethan poet Edmund Spenser died in 1599 and was buried nearby, the tradition of the "Poets' Corner" in the Abbey began. Since then, more than thirty poets and writers are buried there—including Browning, {C}Dryden, Hardy, Jonson, and Kipling—and more than fifty others are memorialized.

Chaucer died on October 25, 1400.


Selected Bibliography
 

The Canterbury Tales
Troilus and Criseyde
Treatise on the Astrolabe
The Legend of Good Women
Parlement of Foules
Anelida and Arcite
The House of Fame
The Book of the Duchess
Roman de la Rose
Translation of Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy (as Boece)

Merciles Beaute

Geoffrey Chaucer, 1343 - 1400
A Triple Roundel


I. Captivity

Your yën two wol sle me sodenly,
I may the beaute of hem not sustene,
So woundeth hit through-out my herte kene.

And but your word wol helen hastily
My hertes wounde, whyl that hit is grene,
     Your yën two wol sle me sodenly; 
     may the beaute of hem not sustene.

Upon my trouthe I sey yow feithfully,
That ye ben of my lyf and deth the quene;
For with my deth the trouthe shal be sene.
     Your yën two wol sle me sodenly,
     I may the beaute of hem not sustene,
     So woundeth hit through-out my herte kene.



II. Rejection. 

So hath your beaute fro your herte chaced
Pitee, that me ne availeth not to pleyne;
For Daunger halt your mercy in his cheyne.

Giltles my deth thus han ye me purchaced;
I sey yow soth, me nedeth not to feyne;
     So hath your beaute fro your herle chaced
     Pilee, that me ne availeth not to pleyne

Allas! that nature hath in yow compassed
So gret beaute, that no man may atteyne
To mercy, though he sterve for the peyne.
     So hath your beaute fro your herte chaced
     Pitee, that me ne availeth not to pleyne;
     For daunger halt your mercy in his cheyne.



III. Escape. 

Sin I fro love escaped am so fat,
I never thenk to ben in his prison lene;
Sin I am fre, I counte him not a bene.

He may answere, and seye this or that;
I do no fors, I speke right as I mene.
     Sin I fro love escaped am so fat,
     I never thenk to ben in his prison lene.

Love hath my name y-strike out of his sclat,
And he is strike out of my bokes clene
For ever-mo; [ther] is non other mene.
     Sin I fro love escaped am so fat,
     I never thenk to ben in his prison lene;
     Sin I am fre, I counte him not a bene.
               Explicit.

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

Geoffrey Chaucer

Geoffrey Chaucer

Geoffrey Chaucer was born in London sometime between 1340 and 1344 to

by this poet

poem
O Yonge fresshe folkes, he or she,
In which that love up groweth with your age,
Repeyreth hoom from worldly vanitee,
And of your herte up-casteth the visage
To thilke god that after his image
Yow made, and thinketh al nis but a fayre
This world, that passeth sone as floures fayre.

And loveth him, the which that
poem
Here bygynneth the Book of the tales of Caunterbury

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote, 
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote, 
And bathed every veyne in swich licóur 
Of which vertú engendred is the flour; 
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth 
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
poem
In days of old there lived, of mighty fame,
A valiant Prince, and Theseus was his name;
A chief, who more in feats of arms excelled,
The rising nor the setting sun beheld.
Of Athens he was lord; much land he won,
And added foreign countries to his crown.
In Scythia with the warrior Queen he strove,
Whom first by