Tuesday, February 16, 2016
The Influence of Poetry
I have read Chaucer a few times throughout both high school and college, and each time I read the tales, I am struck by the raunchiness and daring of Chaucer's language. The Miller's Tale especially is one of debauchery, sex, and basically bad behavior on the part of a majority of the characters. Alisoun is young, attractive, and not above cheating on her adoring husband if it means gaining the favor of eager young men. She and her lover, Nicholas, subject poor John to numerous humiliations until finally the entire town believes John to be mad. The subject matter of the poem is scandalous in itself, but Chaucer pushes the envelope with the jokes Alisoun and Nicholas play on another one of Alisoun's would-be suitors. The Franklin's Tale is slightly less bawdy in tone and word choice, but it still deals with the concept of adultery. Dorigen is forced to agonize over the debt she owes Aurelius; ultimately, Aurelius proves to be nobler than he first appears, and Dorigen is released from her obligation. The entire tale is one that could have gone either way, but Chaucer chooses to defer to love instead. Additionally, this tale does not contain the outright warning characteristic of the Miller's Tale. Women are not portrayed as flighty and prone to betrayal, but instead kind and capable of honoring true love. Finally, the Nun's Priest's Tale involves a story based around the lure and deceit of flattery. The chicken is tempted by the cunning fox and eventually captured, all because the chicken wanted to demonstrate his impressive crowing skills. The tables turn when the fox falls prey to flattery when he opens his mouth to taunt the other pursuers, and the chicken is able to escape and fly into a nearby tree. All of these tales revolve around different subject matter, but each one has managed to survive in the literary canon for centuries. Chaucer wrote these tales in the fourteenth century, and they are still being read today by students and teachers alike. It is a clear demonstration of the durability and impact of poetry, and serves as a perfect example for Sidney's argument: "First, by turning to history itself, he notes the extent to which poetry has been the first educator and mental nourisher of primitive peoples, leading them gradually into a more civilized state and a more sensitive receptivity to knowledge of every sort" (79). If this argument is true, then poetry holds far more power and influence than first imagined. As stated before, Chaucer's legacy is a prime example of this capability on the part of poetry. It has survived for an impressive amount of time, and will most likely continue to hold a place in the literary canon for years to come.