Chaucer's Gift to English

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“The Father of English Poetry” was a government clerk with a bawdy imagination. Geoffrey Chaucer grew up in mid-fourteenth century England, the son of a wine merchant – he hung out on the commercial piers of London, learned French and observed the ways of every class.

It was the choice to leave French behind that gave Chaucer his ticket to the canon. When, after serving two kings, the clerk started writing, he chose the vernacular Middle English of the day instead of literary French – and gave birth to a talky band of pilgrims whose journey became for many the first steps in modern English literature.

The narrators of those Canterbury Tales were as diverse as poetry had ever seen, from the shameless Wife of Bath to the fast-talking Pardoner. Chaucer gave each a voice, and let his readers judge their contest. Geoffrey Chaucer died 600 years ago this year, and still his work is behind our every word.
(Hosted by Christopher Lydon)


Derek Pearsall, retired Professor of English at Harvard University.