Date of Award
Master of Arts
Dr. Edward C. Peple
Geoffrey Chaucer is one of the greatest poets of our English literature. If Shakespeare stands apart as our greatest, then it is John Milton who must dispute with Chaucer the honor of second place. Milton undoubtedly surpasses Chaucer in the grandeur of his imagination and the sublimity or his poetic style; but "he cannot equal him in the range and variety of his art." On one hand we have Chaucer, the grave and serious poet.always keenly conscious that "our human life is a shifting quicksand of mutability, that lasting happiness can never be our earthly portion;" whereas we have but to turn the page and find evidence of his sprightly fancy and lively wit and humor--humor that ranges all the way from the most delicate hint or the ludicrous to the broadest farce--a farce that is often anything but delicate.
Further, he brought to English poetry a wide range of experience. As a young man we know that he saw military service, and as an older man he twice made the long journey to Italy. In England , bis duties in the custom house and other employments in civil government allowed him to associate with and talk with all sorts and conditions of men. However, if he knew the world of experience.he was equally familiar with the world of books. He must have been a voracious reader. It is said that he possesBed a library or some sixty volumes,which in fourteenth century England was an imposing collection. He bad not only read or looked into the Latin classics, but he was also intimately acquainted with the courtly poets of France, and bis knowledge of Italian opened for him the great pages or Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio. Besides literature, we know Chaucer to have been interested in the pseudo-science of bis day, astronomy, the mysteries of alchemy, and he knew in detail the medieval theory or dreams. And, throughout hie poetry we find evidence of the philosopher--sometimes serious, sometimes delightfully ironical. It is not strange that one of his contemporaries aptly refers to him as the "noble philosophical poet in English." And in addition to the variety and range or his poetry, he had shown
"that our newly recovered English could be the vehicle of poetry as elevated and profound as that of any poet who used the more exalted medium or Latin, or as light and graceful as that of any courtly singer of France--but he was also a poet who could condescend at times to write a lively tale of ribald farce."
Apperson, Elder Blair, "A study of Chaucer's influence on English literature through Dryden" (1954). Master's Theses. 80.