Visions of Love

Chaucer's Book of the Duchess and Parliament of Fowls provided a model for contemporary and later poets -- the vision or dream in which matters of love are the dominant concern. Chaucer based his works on Le roman de la rose, the influential work that provided the model followed by medieval writers from Dante to Chaucer and beyond, and on French poems by writers such as Machaut and Froissart who had been influenced by that work.

The fifteenth-century imitators of Chaucer provide what might be regarded as "retrospective analogues" to Chaucer's dream-visions and works in the "high style." They show how his poems were read and thus show us one way of looking at Chaucer from a perspective different from our more modern viewpoint.

One of the best imitations of Chaucer is The Flower and the Leaf, which was apparently written by a woman; despite the obvious fact that the narrator is feminine, the work was attributed to Chaucer and regarded by many, including John Dryden, as Chaucer's finest work:

The Flower and the Leaf (Original version)
The Flower and the Leaf (trans. John Dryden)

The Assembly of Ladies appears with The Flower and the Leaf in the manuscripts; it too was apparently written by a lady and it was assumed that the two poems were by the same author; Derek Pearall, in his edition of these poems (The Floure and the Leafe and the Assembly of Ladies, London, 1962 [Wid 12426.105; later editions PR 1898.F4X, PR 1203.F56]), gives good reasons for thinking this is not the case. The poem is not in a class with The Flower and the Leaf, but it is worth reading:

The Assembly of Ladies

Alain Chartier's celebrated La belle dame sanz merci was translated into Middle English by Sir Richard Ros around the middle of the fifteenth century; the verse is accomplished but the debate between the love-stricken knight and the scornful lady, who anticipates Shakespeare's Rosalind ("Men have died and worms have eaten them but not for love"), drags on for a bit too long:

"La Belle Dame sans Mercy"

Perhaps the best of the imitations of Chaucer's courtly visions is also the earliest, The Cuckoo and the Nightingale, by Sir John Clanvowe, a friend and associate of Chaucer's. The lively debate between the two birds on the merits of earthly love has a touch of the true Chaucerian spirit:

The Cuckoo and the Nightingale

For more examples of poems in the Chaucerian style, see Volume VII of Skeat's Oxford Chaucer, from which the texts on this page have been adapted.