Works of Sri Aurobindo » English » CWSA » The Future Poetry » The Course of English Poetry ­ 1

The first early motive and style of this poetry as it emerges in Chaucer strikes at once an English note. The motive is a direct and concrete poetic observation of ordinary human life and character. There is no preoccupying idea, no ulterior design; life, the external figure and surface of things is reflected as near as possible to its native form in the individual mind and temperament of the poet. Chaucer has his eye fixed on the object, and that object is the visible action of life as it passes before him throwing its figures on his mind and stirring it to a kindly satisfaction in the movement and its interest, a blithe sense of humour or a light and easy pathos. He does not seek to add anything to it or to see anything below it or behind its outsides. He is not concerned to look at all into the souls or deeply into the minds of the men and women whose appearance, action and easily apparent traits of character he describes with so apt and observant a fidelity. There is no call on the poet yet to ask himself what is the meaning of all this movement of life or the power in it or draw any large poetic idea from its vivid scheme and structure. He is not moved to interpret life; a clear and happy presentation is his business. It is there simply in the sunlight with its familiar lines and normal colours, sufficiently interesting in itself, by its external action, and he has to record it, to give it a shape in lucid poetic speech and rhythm; for to turn it into stuff of poetry that and the sunlight of his own happy poetic temperament in which he bathes it is all he needs. The form he gives to it is within its limits and for its work admirably apt, sufficient and satisfying, — altogether and excellently satisfying if we ask from it nothing more than it has to offer. Chaucer had captured the secret of ease, grace and lucidity from French romance poetry and had learned from the great Italians more force and compactness of expression than French verse had yet attained, a force diluted and a compactness lightened for his purpose. But neither his poetic speech nor his rhythm has anything of the plastic greatness and high beauty of the Italians. It is an easy, limpid and flowing movement, a well-spring of natural English utterance without depths in it, but limpid and clear and pure. It is a form just fitted for the clear and pleasing poetic presentation of external life as if in an unsoiled mirror. At times it rises into an apt and pointed expression, but for the most part is satisfied with a first primitive power of poetic speech; a subdued and well-tempered even adequacy is its constant gift. Only once or twice does Chaucer, as if by accident, strike out a really memorable line of poetry; yet Dante and Petrarch were among his masters.....cont

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