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The End of the Middle Ages
> Minor Verse
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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes
Volume II. The End of the Middle Ages.
§ 14. Minor Verse.
The remaining minor verse, accepted with more ore less agreement as distinguished from Chauceriana, which will be dealt with separately, requires but brief mention. Of the ballade
To Rosemounde, The Former Age, the Fortune
Lack of Steadfastness
though none is quite without interest, and though we find lines such as
The lambish peple, voyd of alle vyce,
which are pleasant enoughonly
otherwise known as
The Ballad of Good Counsel,
is unquestionably worthy of Chaucer. The note of vanity is common enough in the Middle Ages; but it has seldom been sounded more sincerely or more poetically than here, from the opening line
Flee fro the prees, and dwelle with sothfastnesse
to the refrain
And trouthe shal delivere it is no drede;
with such fine lines between as
Hold the hye wey, and lat thy gost thee lede.
or personal epistles to Scogan and Bukton, have some biographical attraction, and what is now called
The Complaint of Venus,
a translation from Otho de Granson, and the wofully-comical
are not devoid of it; the elaborate triple roundel (doubted by some) of
is pretty, and one or two others passable. But it is quite evident that Chaucer required licence of expatiation in order to show his genius. If the reference to many a song and many a licorous lay in the retraction is genuine and well-founded, it is doubtful whether we have lost very much by their loss.
The foregoing observations have been made with a definite intent to bring the account of this genius as much as possible under the account of each separate exercise of it, and to spare the necessity of diffuse generalisation in the conclusion; but something of this latter kind can hardly be avoided. It will be arranged under as few heads and with as little dilation upon them as may be; and the bibliography of MSS., editions and commentaries, which will be found in another part of this volume, must be taken as deliberately arranged to extend and supplement it. Such questions as whether the Canterbury pilgrimage took place in the actual April of 1395, or in any month of the poetical year, or whether it is safe to date
The House of Fame
from the fact that, in 1383, the 10th of December fell on a Thursday, the day and month being given by the text and the day of the week being that of Jove, whose bird carries the poet offcannot be discussed here. Even were the limits of space wider, the discussion might be haunted by memories of certain passages in
The Nuns Priests Tale
and elsewhere. But some general points might be handled.
The Former Age.
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