Saturday, 12 December 2015

The Good-Morrow: A Critical Analysis

The Good-Morrow: A Critical Analysis:

                A cursory glance upon John Donne’s The Good Morrow will regard it as a conventional love poem that derives its form from two related genres in Renaissance love poetry: aubade, a morning serenade of a lover to mistress and a similar popular literary form: aube, a love poem which presents a conversation between two lovers as they wake up at dawn after a night of love making. This later genre  was one  which Donne used on other occasions in Break of Day and The Sun Rising where he worked for somewhat different effect in his handling of it. The standard dramatic situation for this literary form  is established in The Good Morrow by the implications of the title and by the rather oblique indications of lines 8-11 and 15-16 which present a bed-room  scene in which two lovers lie peacefully in the  morning gazing at each other.
                Though the normal tone of this literary form is one of relaxed, tender eroticism, Donne breaks this pattern, as he did in The Sun Rising, by starting the poem with colloquial phrasing,  the heavy stress and broken rhythm of an impassioned speech:  “I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I/ Did, till we loved?” The lover is astonished to discover that he and his mistress have wasted their time in simple childish “country pleasure” that are described by the breast feeding images like “weaned” and “sucked” before their last night of love making. They might have hidden themselves and their mind like the seven christian young men of Ephesus who escaped Roman persecution by sleeping in cave.  But the pleasure which the poet has experienced is not a nonsexual one. Rather it refers to the sexual conquest which is revealed by the words “pleasure”, “beauty”, “desired”, “got” that have specific usage in Donne’s vocabulary in the following lines:
            “ ’Twas so; but this, all pleasures fancies be.
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desired, and got, ’twas but a dream of thee.”
Donne uses “beauty” in a sense roughly equivalent to the modern slang use of “babe”, “desired” and “got” have a specifically sexual implication. Similarly “pleasure” was strictly restricted to the meaning sensual pleasure. They seem merely a “dream” of her, a shadowy manifestation of the ultimate reality which she embodies.
            In the early stanza we find that the two lovers especially the speaker are not young innocents who have just discovered  sex. They are old hands at the game. Therefore they had thought that love was nothing more than lust. But he present love affair unlike the lover’s fleshly liaisons. It has brought about awakening of their souls and their souls have entered as active agents into a new realm of experience. This is stated in the following line: “And now good-morrow to our waking souls”. In their new experience of love, they do not watch one another out of suspicions and fear of infidelity which trouble ordinary lovers because this love is strong a force that it overpowers any desire  which may divert  their attention to anything outside. The small bed room, which shuts out the world, serves as a symbol for the entire contentment of a love that enables them to renounce not only other loves but also all of the normal activities of life in the world. That’s why the poet says:
            “Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown,
Let us possess one world, each hath one, and is one.”
These images of “sea-discoverers” and map-readers, if taken literally, are used by Donne to differentiate his love which is fixed, self-satisfied and has a world of its own from the frantic adventurous curiosity, heroism and the romance of life of Renaissance. But if we penetrate into these literal meaning, we will find that the poet associated these images of “sea-discoverers” with the immature physical restless instability of love which is called in the first stanza childish country pleasure and “all love of other sights” in the poem.
            In the next stanza the poet again returns to the bed scene  where each lover finds his and her face reflected on the other’s eye:  My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,/ And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;”. At the end of the previous stanza the poet has presented each of the lovers as a complete world, in absolute possession of the separate world of other ( “each hath one, and is one”). But now in the above lines he presents these two worlds as a single globe made up of two congruent hemispheres. Thus Donne makes a logical transition from a conception of the love relationship as the lover’s complete possession of one another to a conception of love as a fusion of the lover’s soul into a single new identity. As Donne develops this metaphor, he presents the globe formed by the two hemisphere as characterised by the same qualities of permanence and peace which were implied by his characterisation of the love in the statement: “true plain hearts do in the faces rest”. It is “without sharp north, without declining west”. Drawing the evidence of scholastic philosophy, the poet says: “Whatever dies, was not mixed equally”. But the poet thinks their love is immortal and permanent. Unlike the gross union of the unstable matter of lovers’ bodies, their love is a pure union of the eternal substance of lover’s soul to the heavenly sphere: “If our two loves be one, or, thou and I/ Love so alike, that none do slacken, none can die.”
            The poem is typical love poem in which Donne discards the clowning and antic poses of his early love poetry and treats love with a gravity and richness of thought and emotion. The central idea of the poem that the long inner debate of body and soul can be resolved in wholly satisfying love which includes both physical sex and spiritual union points out to Neo-Platonism. But the poet comes to his conclusion not by emotional assertion but by logical analysis drawing examples and images from various spheres of knowledge.  But Donne’s technique in spite of his scholarly references is not pedantic and appeals to the readers for its depth of thought and sincerity of feeling and emotion. Thus here occurs What T. S. Eliot says “association of sensibility” while praising the poetry of Donne.


Wednesday, 7 October 2015

A Valediction Forbidding Mourning: A Critical Analysis

A Valediction Forbidding  Mourning: A Critical Analysis:

                Parting is in Donne’s love poetry is what Death is in his religious poetry – the test of faith. He handled this theme in different ways. His Picture, where the lover is about to go to the wars, fears how he may look when he returns, is one of the most beautiful of Donne’s songs: “Sweetest love, I doe not goe/ For weariness of thee.”  The theme is handled at greater length in one of Donne’s most torturous poems: A Valediction: of my Name, in the Window. Here the lover scratches his name on a pane of glass as a charm to secure his mistress’ fidelity during his absence. In A Valediction: of the Book, he advises her to spend time while he is away making a book for the lovers out of the letters that have passed between them. On these last two, though they contain fine messages, intellectual ingenuity has destroyed the sense of poignancy of parting. But in A Valediction: of Weeping, in spite of its celebration, the loss and pain of parting are rendered by the passionate music of the verse.
                                             But the present poem A Valediction Forbidding Mourning, that depicts the lover’s attempt to dissuade  the beloved from mourning their  separation by showing logical reason, lacks the emotional and passionate mood that may drench the sorrow of separation. Like The Good Morrow, the poem celebrates higher spiritual love that stands apart from the gross sensuality of ordinary lovers. That’s why the lover asserts that the separation cannot affect their love which is not associated with bodies that may be separated, but with soul that cannot be separated. But the lover comes to his conclusion logically citing examples, witty comparison, ingenious conceits and far-fetched metaphors.
                As the poem opens, we find the poet comparing their separation with the death of “virtuous men” who “pass mildly away/ And whisper to their soul to go.”  Similarly the poet bids her beloved to accept their separation quietly without “tear-floods” and “sigh-tempests”: “So let us melt and make no noise/ No tear-floods nor sigh sigh-tempest move”.  Otherwise it will profane their sacred love by revealing it to the common people. Men are afraid of earthquakes and the damages caused by them. But the moment of the heavenly sphere, cause by them, though much greater and violent, is quiet and harmless. Similarly ordinary lovers may lament a separation but their love is so holy and pure that  they have no feeling of loneliness. This contrast of the corruptible earth and the incorruptible heaven leads to the contrast between “Dull Sublunary lover’s love” whose animating principle is sensual desire and the refined love of the poet and his beloved. A love which is “elemented”  or “composed” of  physical contact cannot endure absence. But the refined sort of love which joins soul to soul can endure absence. As their souls are joined into one, there can be no breach but only expansion. The poet explains with the image of gold, the purest metal, which can be beaten out almost to transparency, but it will not break: “Our two souls therefore, which are one,/ Though I must go, endure not yet/ A breach, but an expansion,/ Like gold to airy thinness beat.” The alchemical symbol for gold was a circle with a point at its centre and it has been suggested that the memory of this led Donne to his final image of the compass. If their identities are not one, but two separate entities, the poet compares them to the two feats of a geometrical compass. The soul of the beloved is like the fixed foot of the compass as she stays at home. The poet’s soul is like the other foot of the compass which moves in a circle: “If they be two, they are two so/ As stiff twin compasses are two;/ Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show/ To move, but doth, if the other do.” The fixed foot leans towards the moving foot and afterwards the moving foot rejoins the fixed foot. The rejoining of the encircling foot suggests the return of the poet to his beloved and their union – in spite of their separate identities – is the very consummation and joy of love:  “Thy firmness makes my circle just,/ And makes me end where I begun”.

“To this comparison”, wrote Dr. Johnson, “it may be doubted whether absurdity and ingenuity has the better”.   However, he considered it as the crowning example  of the metaphysical poets’ “pursuit of something new and strange”. Like a typical metaphysical poet, Donne drives home his concept of love that is very akin to neo-platonic love with witty, ingenious conceit, images and comparison. Images of death of virtuous men, earthquake, gold beaten to transparency and lastly the incomparable conceit of compass add to quaintness and ingenuity of the poem. The strength of the poem lies in its argument and the use of appropriate conceits and images. Sometimes hyperbole is used to emphasise a point that “tears’” are floods and “sighs” are tempests. Thus the poet has been able to prove his point that his absence is no cause for mourning for his beloved because their love is pure and constant.


Sunday, 30 August 2015

Contribution of Raja Rao to Indian English literature.

         Chief among the great trio of Indian English fiction Raja Rao is remembered mainly for his employment on Hindu mythology, religion and culture in his novel. He comes of very old South Indian Brahmin family in 1909. Raja Rao was a child of Gandhian Age who looked upon the ‘Mahatma’ as mythical hero such as ‘Rama’ or ‘Lord Krishna’. He was an ardent follower of Gandhian principles and hence when he took up writing his novels and short stories, always reflected his inner conviction in the teaching of Mahatma Gandhi. Added to, this was a great love for the rich past of traditional India and its spiritual heritage. There are metaphysical speculations in his novels of which he himself tells E.M Forster in 1945 then he had “abandoned literature for good and gone over to metaphysical”
               Raja Rao is not a professional writer. He writes slowly; revises meditatively. Naturally there are long intervals between his works. Raja Rao’s earliest novel was Kanthapura(1938) an Indian epic or “Purana” in English language. The novel echoes the spirit of Gandhi’s impact on a remote south Indian village and is recorded in the chatty language of a village grandmother. For her, Gandhi is Rama, the red foreigners or the brown inspector Police is soldier in ten-headed Ravana’s army. The novel has often been called “Gandhipurana” because of its avowal of Gandhian politics.
               Kanthapura was followed by twenty years of prolonged silence after which came Raja Roy’s second novel The Serpent and the Rope. It has been called the ‘spiritual autobiography’ of the novelist. It appeared in 1960 and critics who called  Kanthapura as Raja Rao’s Ramayana called this book as Mahabarata.The novel records the journey of an Indian Lord Ramaswamy through the trouble of life both in India and abroad and culminates in his search for the “Guru. He travels to France and married Medeleine,has a child who dies within one year of birth, separated from his wife and returns to India. He realizes that “the serpent” is “Maya”, the reality is the “rope”-but the “Guru” with lantern is required to reveal this.
                  Next came The Cat and Shakespeare in 1965 which is best be called a ‘philosophical comedy’.The sub-title o the novel is A Tale of Modern India. The background of the novel is provided by the famine of 1942.The narration is a curious mixture of fantasy and realism. This was followed by Comrade Kirilliov(1976), a spiritual autobiography. Rao’s most recent novel is  The Chase master and His Moves(1988).The novel deals with a tale of doomed love between Shibaram Shastri an Indian mathematician and a married woman.
                Raja Rao’s credit also rest in his collection of short stories. He wrote three short stories collections- The Cow and The Barricades(1947),The Policeman and the Rose and Other Stories(1978) and On The Ganga Ghat(1993).These stories dealt with the same theme as his novels and have received a high critical acclaim. Besides, Raja Rao also wrote some non-fictional prose such as The Meaning of India, a collection of seventeen essays and a biography of Mahatma Gandhi entitled The Grater Indian Way(1998).

                  Raja Rao was a writer with a metaphysical bent who imbibed into English language the idiom, the rhythm and love of his vernacular (i.e Kannada).He was a great spiritual thinker and his work depicts a unique blending of the spiritual, the regional and political ideals. He was also a worshipper of the ‘feminine principle’. Santa Rama Rao considered Raja Rao as “perhaps the most brilliant and certainly the most interesting writer of modern India”.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Christopher Marlowe’s Contribution to English Tragedy

Christopher Marlowe’s Contribution to English Tragedy:

We may begin by quoting Swinburne’s just and relevant remarks regarding Marlowe: “Before him there was neither genuine blank verse nor a genuine tragedy in our language. After his arrival the way was prepared, the paths were made straight for Shakespeare.” After the Reformation Movement, Mysteries and Moralities lost all their influences on the audience. They were disliked by people because of their association with old church. In this time, the Revival of Learning and translation of the great Italian tragedies of Seneca left a deep impact on the development of the English drama. Following Senecan model grew the tradition of Revenge Tragedy that often involved long sententious speeches, lack of action, talkative ghost and horrible scene of gruesome murders. It required the mighty effort of a genius to free the Elizabethan drama from the dark and vulgar aspects of the Senecan Tragedy. In this situation,  Marlowe appeared to give Elizabethan drama a distinct shape.                      
The first thing done by Marlowe was to break away from the medieval conception of tragedy that deals with rise and fall of royal personalities. Almost all the heroes of Marlowe – Tamburlaine, Faustus and Jew of Malta – are of humble parentage, but they are endowed with great heroic qualities. His heroes are fired with indomitable passions and inordinate ambition . His Tamburlaine is in full-flooded pursuit of military and political power, his Faustus sells his soul to devil, Jew of Malta absolutely discards all sense of human values with his blind and inordinate aspiration towards wealth as an ultimate end. Thus individuality and worldliness, two basic principles of Renaissance, coupled with intense passion and pitiless struggle with superhuman energy find expression in his heroes.
Another great achievement of Marlowe was to introduce element of conflict in two of his great tragedies Dr. Faustus and Edward II. Conflict may be physical as well as internal and spiritual.  The spiritual conflict that takes place in the heart of hero is much greater, significant and poignant than the former. In this respect, Dr. Faustus is the first tragedy that dramatizes the agony of a conflict ridden soul in the history of English drama. Unlike the heroes of ancient tragedies, Marlowe’s heroes are not helpless puppets in the hands of blind fate. They are conscious of what they are doing and ready to embrace the consequences. That’s why Faustus says: “ ...Faustus hath incurr’d eternal death/ By despearte thoughts against Jove’s deity.”
Other remarkable achievement of Marlowe was to introduce a new type of blank verse in his tragedies. A new spirit of poetry was breathed into the artificial and monotonous verse of old plays. in the place of the verse of Gorboduc with its end-stopped run-on-lines, sometimes with regular feminine or weak endings, varied the accent here and there and shifted the caesura. He also created a wonderful rhythm of extreme flexibility and power by introducing feet other than iambic ones. Faustus' magnificently apostrophe on Helen with its poetic excellence, romantic rapture and musical cadence is probably the most celebrated verse paragraph in Elizabethan drama.
Marlowe discarded the conception of tragedy as it was distinctly moral one. In those dramas, aim was always to preach some moral lesson to the audience. But there was no such instructive morality in Marlowe's plays. The main interest in Marlovian drama centres on the towering personality of the heroes with their tremendous rise and fall.
Among other notable characteristics of Marlowe's tragedies is its high seriousness and lack of humour. According to many critics, these farcical scenes in Dr. Faustus are nothing but interpolations. The women characters are also conspicuous by their absence. Zenocrate in Tamburlaine, Helen in Dr. Faustus, Abigail in Jew of Malta are either figureheads or spirits or shadows. As regards plot construction, Marlowe  followed the old chronicle tradition of separate episodes just loosely knit together in his Tamburlaine and  Dr. Faustus. Only in Jew of Malta and Edward II, he first attempted a regular plot and succeeded to some extent in the former and to a great extent in the latter. Most of the above features may be regarded as the drawbacks of Marlowe as a dramatist and probably due to this limitation Marlowe could not succeed in reaching the loftiest summits of  the tragic art. But he was the pioneer or the "morning star" of Elizabethan drama. We may conclude by illuminating remarks of Schelling: " Marlowe gave the drama passion and poetry; poetry was his most precious gift. Shakespeare would not have been Shakespeare, had Marlowe never written or lived."

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Major Themes of Rabindranath Tagore’s The Post Office:

Major Themes of Rabindranath Tagore’s The Post Office:

Tagore’s The Post Office has been internationally the most popular play of Tagore. It was successfully staged in different countries at different times. On the surface level, the play represents the eagerness of Amal, a sick child kept confined in a room, to participate in the activity of life around him. But beyond this apparent simplicity lies its profound meaning. Dr. Iyenger considers it to be “(o)ne of the most deeply significant of Tagore’s play which a child could read and understand, thought it might intrigue the grown ups.”  In deeper level, it has been read as an allegory of soul seeking what lies beyond. Like Tagore’s another symbolic play The King of the Dark Chamber, it presents human spirit reaching it liberation through a communication beyond the ken of human recognition. W.B Yeats lays emphasis on the deliverance as the theme of the play. The deliverance which the child discovers in death naturally comes at the moment when one reaches beyond his personal ego and is able to say, “all my work is thine.”

Amal is an orphan child adopted by Madhav. But he suffers from a serious disease. According to the advice of the village doctor, he is not allowed to go out in open-air as it may be detrimental to his health. So he is kept confined in room with utmost care by Madhav. He is a simple and innocent child with highly sensitive and imaginative mind. Though he is kept confined in room, his imaginative mind leads him to transcend the barrier of the four walls of the room. He sits besides the window and makes friends with the passer-by, imparting to each a new zest for life. Thus the Dairyman, Watchman, Headsman, Sudha and the village boys become his friends. He has a simple, innocent, highly imaginative and extraordinary inquisitive mind. He says to Madhav: “See that far-away from our window – I often long to go beyond those hills and right away.” His highly imaginative mind leads him to draw a mental picture of the Dairyman’s village without actually seeing it. He gives a compelling picture of the Dairyman’s village and the Dairyman is surprised to hear it: “Amal: Never. But I seem to remember having seen it. Your village is under some very old big trees, just by the side of the red road – isn’t that so?” With simple and innocent mind, he believes Gaffers tale of the Parrot’s Isle. He also believes in Watchman’s assurance that one day he will receive the king’s letter and he waits in anxious anticipation for the King’s letter.

In Act II Amal’s physical condition deteriorate. None sees any hope of his survival. Headman mocks him giving him a blank letter. But at last the king’s Herald and the King’s Physician come. Lastly Amal dies. Thus the play deals with Amal’s tragic story of suffering and pain on the surface level. But a deeper analysis will reveal that Amal’s death is not at all a tragic one. Instead it is seen as union between human soul and the Supreme Being. Amal is an innocent boy who is tired of the suffering of his life. Therefore he is eager for deliverance from this earthly existence. It is an invitation to leave this world of pain and suffering and enter the world of eternal bliss. At the end of the play Amal says to the State’s Physician: “I feel very well, Doctor, very well. All pain is gone. How fresh and open! I can see all the stars now twinkling from the other side of the dark.”

Each character, like Amal, has a significant role to play in the inner drama of the soul waiting for deliverance. Watchman symbolizes time. That time is most powerful and wants for none is clearly stated by him: “Watchman: My gong sounds to tell people, Time waits for none but goes on forever.” Thus behind the apparent simplicity of the dialogue, deeper and profound meaning continues to flicker. Sudha who gathers flowers stands for sweetness and grace. Madhav solicits like a common man of prosperity. The Physician symbolizes bookish knowledge that prevents man to achieve wisdom and true knowledge. Even the wicked village Headman has his place in the rich drama of life standing for his place in the rich drama of life standing for his obtrusive authority. Amal alone is an angelic creature, apparently passive but highly creative through his imaginative perception. The play is a series of dialogue but each dialogue vivrates with meaning.

The play has a neat classical structure with a clear cut unity of place and action. But some critics have raised question about death of Amal and the ending of the play. Thompson has considered the ending melodramatic. K.R. Srinivasa Iyenger is of the opinion that “(T)he physical death of Amal is thus not logically necessary to the story.” The king of the Dark Chamber is about a woman with a sick soul. The king visits the dark chamber of the queen’s heart and thus everything is resolved. But in the present play Amal is a boy with sick body. So Iyenger rightly questions, “If Amal dies in the end, how do the king’s herald, king’s physician and the king come into the picture?” The deus ex machina can be justified only if the natural order is reversed and the child recovers and lives as he wanted to as one of king’s postman.

Whatever one may say about the uncertainty and the mystery in which the play ends, it makes it dramatically more effective and artistically more appealing. The Post Office thus remains “beautifully, touching, of one of texture of simplicity throughout and within its limit an almost perfect piece of art."

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Tagore’s Gitanjali: A Critical Appreciation:

Tagore’s Gitanjali: A  Critical Appreciation:

            Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali depicts the spiritual voyage of the poet towards the Supreme Being. It is a collection of devotional songs in which Tagore offers his prayer to God. But the religious fervour of these songs never mars the poetic beauty them. Instead what makes them appealing to the readers are its profoundness expressed with simplicity, optimism and spiritual affirmation, richness and variety, humanization of divine, use of domestic image and symbols, and mythopoeic elements.

            One of the most significant aspects of Tagore’s poetry is that profound thoughts are always presented with simplicity and clarity. For example, the relationship between the Supreme Being and human being is simply described with the metaphor of the “flute of reed.” The Eternal divine Singer breathes through it “melodies eternally new.” The poet says:

            “This little flute of a reed thou hast
            carried over hills and dales, and hast breathed
            through it melodies eternally new.”  (I)

Again the idea that material wealth is a barrier before spiritual progress is beautifully expressed in Song No VIII. Here the poet gives the example of a child clothed in highly ornate dress that prevents him from taking full pleasure in  his play. In the same way, material wealth becomes burden for a man journeying towards a spiritual realm. The poet says:

 “The child who is decked with princes robes
 …loses pleasure in play…it is of no gain
…if it keeps one shut off from the
healthful dust of the earth, if it
robs one of the right of entrance to the
great fair of common human life.” (VIII)

            In the modern days of nihilism and despair, the poems in Gitanjali offer a kind of faith and optimism. This optimism has its root in the belief in an all pervading omnipotent spirit. Man can get rid of all kind of despair and suffering, if he sacrifices himself to God. God will then carry his burden of life. The poet says in Song No IX:

            “Leave all thy burden on his
            hands who can bear all, and
            never look behind I regret.”

            Thus humanization of the divine is one of the significant aspects of Tagore’s poetry. In his poetry, God is presented as existing among the simple, poor and humble people. So to ignore them is to ignore God. In Song No. X, Tagore says:
“Here is thy foot stool and there rest
            thy feet where live the poorest, and
            lowliest and lost” (X)
Sometime God is presented as a profound singer whose songs engross the poet as he says:
            “I know not how thou singest, my master! I ever listen in silent amazement.” (III)

            The poems are characterized by immense variety and richness. Even a single theme is treated in a variety of ways. The relationship between God and man is treated in various way. Sometime he is father and man is His son. He is mother and man is the infant. If He is the lover, man is his beloved. He is musician and man is the flute.

            Tagore uses a wide range of vivid and picturesque image and symbols which are drawn from everyday life as well as from age old myths. Several symbols like light, boat, cloud, pitcher, flute, palace, flowers, river, star, sky recur in his songs. These natural objects are used to convey deeper spiritual truth. For example, in Song No I, human existence is compared to a flute through which God creates new melody:

            “This little flute of a reed thou hast
carried over hills and dales, and hast breathed
through eternally new.” (I)

Again in Song No VI, the frail human body is compared to a flower which withers away quickly. That’s why the poet makes his plea to God to pluck the flower quickly with His own hand lest it “droop and drop into the dust”:

            “Pluck this little flower and take it,
            delay not! I fear lest it droop and
drop into the dust.”

Ornaments and fine dresses are symbol of human ego that impedes man’s spiritual progress. In Song No. VII, the poet says that his poetry has shunned ornamentation so that there might be no bar between him and Him:

            “She (poetry) has no pride of dress
and decoration. Ornaments would
mar our union: they would come
between thee and me: their jingling
would drown thy whisper.” (VII)

The simplicity and effectiveness of diction in Gitanjali are beyond question. We can hardly point out a single uncommon or grandiose word or expression in the entire collection. But the simplicity of diction cannot hide the spontaneity and felicity of expression. A single and simple word is so brilliantly used as to make it profoundly significant and suggestive. Following words are the example of Tagore’s simple but brilliant expression:

            “Away from the sight of thy face
            my hearts knows no rest nor respite, and
            my work becomes endless toil in a shoreless sea of toil” (V)

Tagore takes utmost liberty in using free verse in the poems of Gitanjali. Rhythm and melody produced by free verse is not bound by the regular metrical feet. Instead the rhythm of free verse is determined by the requirement of thought and emotion. It is an "enchantable prose", as Ezra Pound called it,   the rhythm of which is a “subtle under flow.” The subtle under flow of Tagore’s poetic prose is, according to Thompson, “an impeccable metrical achievement.” A beautiful example of melody produced by the free verse is:

“Today the Summer has come at my window
with its sights and murmurs: and the
bees are playing their minstrelsy at the
court of the flowering grove.” (V)

Tagore often uses words from Indian languages which add a new dimension to his poetry. The names of Indian bird, trees  and flowers help to create an Indian ambience. Thus his poetry becomes essentially Indian.

            But Tagore's poetry is not free from drawbacks. Critics object that the poems contained in Gitanjali do not present a logical structure, succession of continuous theme. They are individual works. The poet begins his poems with adoration of God and then follows the various themes of love and devotion but in between he speaks about charity, repentance. Some critics have brought the charge of repetition and monotony against him. Often Tagore deals with the same themes in many poems. The same image recurs in poem after poem. There is something vagueness in his poetry. He has been charged for being “misty, dreamy and diffuse.” Edward Thomson has pointed out grammatical and syntactical mistakes in his poetry as he said”
“Examination of Rabindranath’s English soon shows that it is by no means perfect grammatically. It contains sentences which no educated Englishman would have written, sentences marked by little, subtle errors.” He mentioned Tagore's mistakes with regard to articles, preposition, “occasional misuse of idiom” etc. But he never forgets to write:

            “He writes English of extreme beauty
            and flexibility…it is one of the most
            surprising things in the world’s literature
            that such a mastery over an alien tongue
            ever came to any man.”

            Tagore’s pure, beautiful and profound poetry reached to such a sublime height that these trivial flaws can easily be overlooked. His fatal fluency often led to the repetition and verbosity, sentimentality and vacuity. But this should not eclipse the shining authenticity of Gitanjali. At his best, Tagore remains a poet with delicate sensibility deeply Indian in spirit.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Tagore’s philosophy expressed in the selected songs of Gitanjali:

Tagore’s philosophy expressed in the selected songs of Gitanjali:

“Scepticism and agnosticism have become attractive to the modern mind. In the struggle between the skeptics and agnostics who doubt whether there is anything behind the universe, and the spiritual positivists who affirm that the most vital reality is behind the universe, Rabindranath is with the latter”

Truly in a world of growing materialism, spiritual chaos and atheism, Tagore’s philosophy and songs offer panacea where modern man may soothe his tormented soul. His songs reflect his personal thoughts and philosophy which transcend all sorts of skepticism and nihilism and affirm the existence of a Supreme Being. This Supreme Spirit manifests itself in each living being. Man is unable to see Him because he is bound by the chain of his material desires. His personal ego prevents him from his union with the Supreme Being. But if a man sacrifices his desires and ego and lead a humble life, God makes himself accessible to him. Then he can realize that his own soul is a part of the eternal spirit that pervades the universe. But an unhesitant expression of such philosophy in art may appear absurd and discordant with the modern notion for the modernists believe that the appearances in human idealism are deceptive and the underlying mud is real. They tend to strip life of its glory and idealistic pretension and present man as isolated and alienated on the naked platform of harsh reality. But to these modernists, Tagore’s reply is:

“This defiant distrust and denigration of reality too is only a subjective reaction and a passing perversion of the spirit…If you ask me what true modernism is, I will say it is to look at the world with a detached objective vision and not with personal bias and prejudice. Only such a vision is luminous and pure and results in pure spiritual bliss.”
The poems collected in Gitanjali (1910) for which Tagore won Noble Prize are the supreme expression of Gitanjali. It aptly captures the vein of Tagore’s poetry. It has its roots in –
“A tradition, where poetry and religion are the same thing, has passed through the centuries, gathering from learned and unlearned metaphor and emotion, and carried back again to the multitude, the thought of the scholar and of the noble”(W.B. Yeats: Introduction to Gitanjali). This religious poetry tradition in India was divided in two groups with regard to the treatment of God. Whereas sage Ramprasad, folk-poet Bijoy Sarkar, Rasik Sarkar offered their songs to an invisible, distant celestial being,  Tagore and Chaitanyadev sought for union with Almighty in this human world in human form. In Vaishnav tradition God is considered to be Lord Krishna and all human beings are his beloved women. Their sole aim is the union with this supreme Lord. The western people can hardly nourish such feelings and so Yeats says: “We had not known that we loved God, hardly it may be that we believed in Him.”

            Thus humanization of the divine is one of the significant aspects of Tagore’s poetry. In his poetry, God is presented as existing among the simple, poor and humble people. So to ignore them is to ignore God. In Song No. X, Tagore says:
“Here is thy foot stool and there rest
            thy feet where live the poorest, and
            lowliest and lost” (X)

            Though Rabindranath imagines God in the tangible human form, he does not forget the immortality of God and human soul which is also a part of Him. He says in Song No. I:
“Thou hast made me endless, such is thy
pleasure. This frail vessel thou emptiest again
and again, and fillest it ever with fresh
life.” (I)
Here the metaphor of “frail vessel” is used to signify transitoriness of human existence as contrasted to immortality of the soul.

            Vastness of this eternal spirit is emphasised in human being’s limitation to catch hold of it. The poet repeatedly confesses his own limitation to harmonise himself with this grand spirit. In Song No. I, he says that he is incapable of receiving the infinite gifts showered by Gods:

“Thy infinite gifts come to me only on these
very small hands of mine. Ages pass, and
still thou pourest, and still there is room to fill” (I)

God is presented as a profound singer whose engrosses the poet as he says:
            “I know not how thou singest, my master! I ever listen in silent amazement.” (III)

But in the same song he says that he cannot take part in God’s singing:

            “My heart longs to join in thy song, but vainly for a voice.” (III)

            Material desires and ego are the main barriers in the path towards God. Man is chained by the shackles of desire and ego. Until and unless he sacrifices his desires, he cannot have a glimpse of God. In Song No. IX, the poet says:

            “Thy desire at once puts out the light
 from the lamp it touches with its breath.” (IX)

In Song No. X, he says:
            “Pride can never approach where
Thou walkest in the clothes of the
Humble among the poorest, and lowliest and lost.” (X)

In Song No. VIII, he uses the symbol of a child clothed in a highly decorated garment to reveal the truth that material wealth is a hindrance to spiritual progress:

            “The child who is decked with prince’s
            robes…loses pleasure in play…it
            is of no gain…if it keep one shut
            off from the healthful dust of the
            earth, if it rob one of the right of entrance
            to the great fair of common human life.” (VIII)

That is why he feels the need to keep his mind sacred and away from all kinds of evil as he knows that human mind is the temple of God:

            “I shall ever try to drive all evils away
from my heart and keep my love in flower
knowing that thou hast thy seat in the inmost shrine of my heart.” (IV)

            Though the poet cannot reach God due to his limitation, it is his work of art – his songs can touch the feet of God. His songs are simple. Non-ornamental and devoid of meretricious embellishment as the poet says:

            “My song has put off her adornments. She
            Has no pride of dress and decoration.
            Ornnaments would mar our union; they
            Would come between thee and me; their
            Jingling would drown thy whisper.” (VII)

During this union his poetic pride also dies and he completely sacrifices himself at the feet of God. He calls God a “master poet” and pleads for simple and humble life so that he may be instrument of God’s melody.
            Ecstasy of his union with God is so intense that he forgets all earthly sorrows, pains and harsh elements:

            “All that is harsh and dissonant in my
            Life melts into one sweet harmony.” (II)

 He forgets his own limitation and calls God his friend:

            “Drunk with the joy of singing I forget
            myself and call the friend who art
            my lord.” (II)

            Thus the infinite makes himself accessible to the finite human being and the poems collected in Gitanjali captures the entire gamut of emotions felt by the poet during his ecstasy of union.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015



A. The Summoner:

According to the medieval sciences, the Summoner is afflicted with a species of morphea (a skin disease resulting from a corruption of the blood) known as gutta rosacea, which has alreadv developed into that kind of leprosy called alopecia. Gutta rosacea covers the skin of the face with livid red pustules. But the Summoner has, besides this, `scalled browes blake and piled herd', 'narwe eyes', 'whelkes whyte' and `knobbes' on his cheeks. Chaucer is evidently following contemporary medical opinion in supposing that the Summoner's skin disease has already developed into that type of leprosy that is produced de sanguine, or alopecia.

Alopecia. says a contemporary of Chaucer, is a species of leprosy marked by a complete depilation of the eyebrows and beard. The eyes of the patient become inflated and red. Pimples of a reddish colour appear in the face and even on the whole body, from which runs corruption mixed with blood, as seen in the `whelkes whyte and 'knobbes ' of the Summoner. His eyebrows have nearly all fallen out, and in their place is discovered a scabby, scurfy mark of black colour. His beard too has the scall to such an extent that it is thin and slight. His eyes are swollen and inflamed to a violent red and the lids, already deprived of lashes, are enlarged and corrugated so that the slits in between them—'narwe eyes' as Chaucer calls them.

Geoffrey Chaucer
Chaucer has indicated two principal causes of the disease. The Summoner is 'lecherous as a sparwe' and is accustomed to eating 'oynons, garleek and eek leekes' and drinking strong wines. He is either criminally ignorant or ruthlessly indifferent. Any physician in his time would tell him that leprosy may be contracted by association with infected women, and that garlic, onions and leeks all produce evil humours in the blood, and that red wine is the most powerful and heating of drinks. The Summoner has not read, or treats with contempt, the medical authorities, and having once contracted alopecia by riotous and lascivious living, by the immoderate use of unwholesome drinks and meat, he aggravates it by sticking to his practices.

B. The Cook:

The Cook is also affected with kind of cutaneous eruption which is less malignant than the Summoner's but more offensive to the eye. It is generally agreed that his `normal’ is to be identified with what the medieval medical writers call the malum mortuum. It is a species of ulcerated, dry-scabbed apostemas produced by a corruption in the blood. It is an infirmity infecting the arms and shins of the patient. It consists of dry. ulcers slightly generative at times of bloody matter, sometimes accompanied by severe  itching. The cause is said to be  much consumption of melancholie food (e.g., flesh of cattle and salt fish) and unhygienic sexual practices, unclean habits, lack of frequent bathing and continuous wearing of soiled clothes, drinking of strog wines and so on. So the threadbare sketch of the Cook's pre-eminence in his profession, mormal and his knowledge of London ale actually reveal all the elements of his personality. Similarly, the Summoner’s tainted blood strongly indicates this Archdeacon's messenger has called too promiscuously upon certain erring women of his diocese with other than the professional purpose of haling them to the court.

C. The Pardoner:

The Pardoner's physiognomy is clearly denoted—long straight hair as yellow as wax, which hangs thinly spread over his shoulders, wide open and glaring eyes, with voice high-pitched and thin as a goat, no indication of a beard, and a long scrawny neck. The ancient physiognomist Antonius Polemon Laodicensis says that glaring eyes prominrntly set indicate a man given to folly, a glutton, a libertine and a drunkard. High, thin voice with such eyes are directly associated with shamelessness, impudence, gluttony and licentiousness. Long, soft hair, fine in texture and reddish or yellow in colour indicates an impoverished blood, lack of vitality, and effeminacy of mind. The sparser the hair, the more cunning and deceptive is the man. Another authority opines that a long thin neck is a sign of garrulity, haughtiness of spirit and evil habits, and a man beardless by nature is endowed with a fondness for women and for crafty dealings, besides being impotent.

The Pardoner has been most unfortunate in his birth. He carries upon his mind and his body the marks of what is known to a physiognomist as a eunuchus ex nativitate. An authority in the fourth century says that those who are eunuchs by fault of nature possess certain evil characteristics which distinguish them from other men. They are usually cruel, crafty and vicious. The eunuchus ex nativitate is held to lack the redeeming qualities of even the eunuchus qui castratus. The ones who have never had a beard are worse.
Most of the medical authorities cite Polemon as the authority on eunuchs. He says:

"When the eye is wide open and like marble, glitters and coruscates, it indicates a shameless lack of modesty. This quality of the eyes is observed in a man who is not like other men, but is a eunuch. I have only known one of this kind. He was lustful and dissolute above all moderation. He had a prominent forehead, a long, thin neck, and his cries were like women. He took particular care of his own person by nurturing his abundant hair, rubbing his body with medicated unguents and by employing every expedient that might excite a desire for sexual pleasure. He was given to scornful jesting, and whatever came into his mind, he acted upon immediately. Being learned in Greek, he was accustomed to use that the most. He frequented cities and market-places, meditating on justice and gathering men together in order that he might display evil. Above all, he was a very astute wizard, practicing life and death for men; wherefore he so influenced people that vast crowds of men and women flocked to hear him. Moreover, he persuaded men that he was able to force women to them just as they sought women and surreptitiously he caused to transpire that which he had predicted. As an instructor in the doing of evil he was a past master; he collected all kinds of deadly poisons. All the power of his ingenuity was directed toward the performance of these things. Whenever, therefore, you see such eyes, you may understand that their possessor is similar to this kind of eunuch."

D. The Wife of Bath:

Dame Alisoun's body and mind are influenced by the dominant planet ruling at her birth, Venus. The children of Venus are beautiful, tall, delicate, given to drink and little food, music and the arts, and to passion. They are stately, plump but not stout, graceful, with white skin touched with pink. But unfortunately, these beneficial aspects of Venus are clouded by the presence of Mars, and the Wife is finally shaped by both. So she is endowed with a stocky build which is more or less ungraceful, buxom, and of medium height. The strength which should have accompanied grace and beauty of body is distorted into an abundance of fecund energy; her large hips indicate excessive virility. In place of the attractive face—round but not too large, with finely chiseled features, resplendent black eyes and finely arched brows, a lovely peach-bloom complexion set off by thick curling hair of a dark shade--all of which Venus might have given her, she has inflicted upon her by the malignancy of Mars a slightly heavy face inclined to fatness, characterized by perhaps coarsened features and certainly by a red or florid complexion, which indicates immodesty, loquaciousness and drunkenness. Her voice, which should have been sweet, low and well-modulated, is harsh, strident, and raised continually in vulgar jest and indelicate banter. Such a voice is especially significant in its betrayal of the Wife's voluptuous and luxurious nature. And where the love-star might have given her small sharp teeth white as alabaster, Mars is perhaps responsible for her 'gat-tothed' mouth, where gap-teeth signify that she is envious, irreverent, luxurious by nature, bold, deceitful faithless and suspicious.

This remarkable distortion of her body is paralleled by a warping of her character resulting from the Venus-Mars conjunction in Taurus. Those born under the sole influence of Venus are naturally of a happy, joyous disposition, amiable, charming, attractive, delighting in dance and all such innocent entertainment, but withal gentle, refined, and calmly dignified. They are religious in nature, just in their dealings with men, leaders of noble lives and of an artistic nature, loving delicate and pleasant odours, the colours of elegant apparel and precious jewels. Endowed with the warmest of hearts, they are highly prone to violent amours with the opposite sex, though their amatory relations need not necessarily lead to vice.

Such a woman the cloth-maker of Bath might have been, but for Mars. The natural cheerfulness resolves itself into a kind of crude and clamorous hilarity, an overflow of superabundant animal and intellectual spirits. Her religious instinct has been debased to her going to vigils and to preaching simply to show off her finery, and attending to Miracle plays or going on pilgrimages just to satisfy an idle curiosity or to find another lusty husband. The artistic temperament has been cheapened by Mars, so that she flashily decks herself out in gaudy colours—in scarlet dresses and hose, brand new shoes and silver spurs—and adorns herself on Sundays with cover-chiefs weighing ten pounds and on pilgrimage, with a hat as large as a shield. Mars has given her a steady hardiness and a body so full of `ragerye' that even at forty, she is still 'faire and well bigoon', and it is Mars who impels her to gain at all costs the dominating power over her husbands and who makes of her a scold, a wrangler and a striker of blows.

Bibiloliography: • W C Curry: Chaucer and the Medieval Sciences.

Monday, 25 May 2015




The Canterbury Tales is influenced by

1. the dream vision of Roman de la Rose (the spring opening as a prelude to a debate, the emblematic significance of the personification)

2. estates satires, though it is difficult to say for certain which of these Chaucer knew. Probably he had read the Latin and the French satires included by his friend John Gower in his Vox Clamantis. The Mirrour de l’omme and the French Roman de Carite are influential. Langland's Vision of Piers Plowman is a direct model for the A-text. Both have ideal ploughmen, thriving merchants, priests who ran off to London chantries to sing for silver, friars who wear fineries and absolve sinners for cash, a venal pardoner, rich sergeants-at-law, a group assorted citizens, mostly cloth workers c.f the haberdasher, dyers and tapicere, even the Wife.

3. Boccaccio's Decameron has been cited to be one of the sources, but has not been confirmed.

4. Novelle, by  Giovanni Sercambi.


• The most famous theme that runs across many tales is women’s role in marriage, is part of a larger theme of sexual love and the role of women in the world

• Questions about fortune and providence

• The suffering of the innocent

• What men and women most desire, the choices they make and the intention behind these choices

• Love

• The nature of friendship

• The good ruler

• Good living 

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Canterbury Tales: Characters

Canterbury Tales: Characters

 Image result for canterbury tales characters

Squire - Squires had an odd collection of duties. They attended on men of rank, up to and including the royalty. Often they were expected to wear the livery ot their superior. Squires acted as valets and served at their master's table. They were also expected to provide him and any distinguished guests with entertainment e.g. music, story-telling and singing. Thus the squire we meet here has the necessary accomplishments. However, he is also clearly meant to he compared with his rather whose courage and campaigning experience he is already showing. But where the old knight is simple in dress and apparently limited in artistic and social skills, the young squire combines these skills with military virtues and a fine taste in clothes.

Yeoman — Also belonging to the aristocracy, the yeoman was a farmer of modest position as compared with someone who owns an estate. He would generally be quietly prosperous and independent, though his close-cropped hair is the mark of a servant. He might have been the tenant of a farm on the knight's estate, where he also served as a forester, an important position in those times of strict preservation of game, when hunting was the chief outdoor activity of the aristocrat.

Prioress — She may have been of a minor aristocratic family, and such women were often a very real liability to their parents. If a good match could not be found, and this meant a handsome dowry had to go with the bride, there was really nothing for them to do. They could not work for a living. So they either lingered on as vaguely helpful spinsters in the households of their relations, or entered the Church as nuns. Some of the convents were quite small and not particularly pious, but probably pleasant enough places for such women to live in an atmosphere of chatter and rather lax observation of the official rules.

Monk — The first monastery had been founded by St Benedict over 900 years before the Prologue was written, and the code of practice which Benedict laid down, and which became the basis for monastic life generally as other Orders were founded, was to keep strictly to a fixed routine of prayer, praise and work to live an austere life and, in the case of the enclosed Orders, not to leave the monastery at all once you had taken your vows. (It should perhaps be explained that in Roman Catholic teaching we can all help to alleviate the suffering of souls in Purgatory by prayer, so a primary function of monks and nuns was regular worship on behalf of the people). Monasteries also become centers of learning, often acted as local dispensaries to sick people, gave shelter to poor travelers, and were, ideally, self-supporting by the labour of all the members. Over a millennium, however; a lot of monasteries had become prosperous, idle and corrupt, though perhaps a majority still carried on the good work. However, there was growing feeling that the cloistered life was all too comfortably remote from reality. The Monk himself certainly does not care for it and is thoroughly leading a worldly life.

Friar - While the Monk was essentially one who lived in a monastery a life of regular prayer, a friar went out in the world, as poorly clad as Christ's own disciples, and preached. The four Orders referred to are the Black Friars or Dominicans, the Franciscans Grey Friars, the Carmelites or White Friars, and the Augustinians or Austin Friars. St Francis, the most well known of the friars, is held to be the example of poverty, humility and simplicity. Poverty meant that they could beg—indeed often they had to. As they sometimes needed accommodation, they built friaries, which soon become large and wealthy. Friars were popular because they preached, and medieval folk enjoyed the spoken word, and because they would carry out many of the duties of priest as well. On the other hand they were unpopular, and the subject of many of the accusations which Chaucer makes, because they had easy access to all sorts of households in particular to women, and got a lot of free food and drink. To be a successful friar as distinct from a religious one, you had to be good at pleasing all sorts of people. Our Friar is smooth-
tongued rogue.

Clerk — He is one of Chaucer's gentlest and most effective portraits. He is humbly dressed, badly mounted, reticent in speech and very poor. His position is not easy to define. Most students who managed to go to the university would after a study of the standard subjects such as grammar and rhetoric, mathematics and astronomy, proceed to  theology and would probably enter at least the 'minor orders' of the Church. Many did, not go further and take steps to become priest but found work with their skills of literacy and numeric.

Man of Law — The Sergeant of the Law is a very superior member of the legal fraternity. He was a barrister of the highest rank, one of whose duties was to act as adviser to the Crown. From this level of hierarchy, judges were chosen. In Chaucer's day, men of this rank amassed substantial fortunes, and there were some areas of practice, particularly to do with property deals, where they could succeed in pleasing their client without being over-scrupulous. The wealthy and somewhat pompous lawyer is an echo of the merchant; both are men who have turned their wits to profit. Like the Franklin who follows, he is rich, and it was becoming possible to buy your way into higher level of society.

Franklyn — A Franklin, or 'freeman', meant someone who owned property in his own right. They were often very prosperous, undertook public duties and offices, and were respected. They did not however, have any aristocratic rank. Though our Franklin is no snob or social climber perhaps he would have liked to feel his family one day ennobled, and when he comes to tell his story he wishes his son would mingle more with the nobility. He is seen as an ideal type of country gentleman.

Doctor— In the age of Chaucer, medical advisers were expected to be experts in astrology, and they based their practice on writers of the fourth century BC, and upon the authority of Aesculapius, who left no written records at all and was probably mythical. It is necessary to emphasise two points here. First, medieval people believed implicitly in the influence of the stars, which governed not only our characters and destinies, but the different parts of our bodies. A doctor thus had to know how to calculate the most suitable time to administer a particular medicine, according to the position of the relevant planets. Second, the huge list of authors with which the doctor is familiar may not be satirical, as suggested by some commentators. In the Middle Ages, there was a great respect for authority. If it is Aristotle, it is true. The doctor is probably a good physician,  but an expensive one. In those times, no common man consulted a doctor. The doctors made their money from the rich. It is also true that they made their money at the misfortune of others, like the Man of Law. Perhaps it is this that tells us was rich, because he had saved up all the money made during the plague.

Miller – Millers were unpopular because they had a monopoly—a man with corn to grind had to take it to the local mill – and millers could very easily swindle, since the absence of exact weighing devices made it hard to know how much flour your corn would make, how much the miller had taken as his 'toll'. Chaucer's Miller is presented in a brutish way—animal imagery abounds—and as being thoroughly coarse-grained. He does tell a very rude story, though it is extremely well-told.

Maunciple – The Maunciple is responsible for the catering in one of the Inns of Court, the 'legal university' of the time, to which all barristers must belong. The portrait points to the cleverness of a servant in comparison with his employers, who are steeped in legal learning. He is probably a swindler, who makes a lot of money for himself out of his supposed masters by buying cheap and doctoring the accounts.

Reeve – The Reeve is extremely unpopular with everybody, both for himself and for his job. He, a ruthless demander of rents, acts as a sort of bailiff to a large estate and cannot be cheated, but is dishonest himself.

Summoner – The job of a summoner was to summon people to the ecclesiastical courts, which dealt with moral offences, such as adultery, and they were presided over by a bishop or an archdeacon. He also acted as a semi-official informer. Such a post was open to corruption, and Chaucer's Summoner is extremely corrupt, actually accepting bribes  and encouraging the very sins that he was supposed to report for examination .His ailment was probably leprosy, and his diet of garlic and onions would hardly help his inflamed face.

Pardoner – Like the Summoner, the Pardoner is presented in a thoroughly unpleasant light. The gross abuse of the sale of pardons was one of the reasons for Reformation. Pardoners sold what seemed to be Papal documents which gave absolution for sins; the original idea was that by giving a sum of money to the Church, as well as undergoing the essential act of contrition in yourself, you could be free of minor trespasses. their This led to serious abuses. Pardoners sold fake documents and relics, and claimed that the purchase of their documents could free men from greatest sins with no more trouble than simply praying for them. The Pardoner gives a more frank account of his swindles before he tells his story which turns out to be a prefect little sermon, a parable about greed of all things, told with great skill and economy. He has been suggested to be homosexual and effeminate.  Chaucer hints that he was not fully a man – hence the unbroken ‘goot-like’ voice and hairless face.


Canterbury Tales: Fact file

Canterbury Tales: Fact file

29 pilgrims are shown to be travelling to the holy shrine of Thomas Beckett (thought to be able to cure diseases) at Canterbury. Each of the 29 pilgrims is supposed to tell two tales on way to Canterbury and two more on way back. So there should have been 29 x 4 = 116 tales in all, but the unfinished work contains only 24 tales told by 23 pilgrims (Chaucer himself as a pilgrim narrates two). The winner is to be decided by the host of Tabard Inn, Harry Bailey; the winner is to be treated to dinner ‘at oure aller cost’ and whoever opposes his judgment will reimburse the expenses of all pilgrims. Later, they are joined by two more, the Canon and his Yeoman; therefore, there are 29 + 2 = 31 pilgrims in all. But it has been suggested that the Prioress' three priests might be an error, because only one is mentioned later.

Pilgrims at Tabard Inn
The Tales

The Knight's Tale is the story of Palamon and Arcite, a courtly romance, based on Boccaccio's Teseida. Both Palamon and Arcite compete for the love of Emelye, sister of Hippolyta. queen of the Amazons, who has married Theseus, King of Athens. Palamon is defeated in the tournament but Arcite is thrown off his horse at the moment of triumph and dies. Palamon and Emelye are united after a prolonged mourning for Arcite.

The Miller's Tale is a rollicking story of a credulous carpenter and his pretty wife, who cuckolded him with an ingenious and personable young clerk. It has been said to be a parody of a courtly love story.

The Reeve's Tale: The Miller's tale enrages the Reeve, whose duties included carpentry. He tells a fabliau of two Cambridge students who take their meal to him to be ground. The miller robs them, and they avenge themselves by sleeping with both his wife and his daughter.

The Cook's Tale: The Reeve's tale sends the cook, Roger of Ware, into gales of laughter. He too begins a fabliau of Perkyn Revelour. of which only about 60 lines are extant.

The Man of Law's Tale is a symbolic story in rhyme royal, of the various misfortunes of Constance, daughter of a Roman Emperor, who married the Sultan of Turkey on condition that he embrace Christianity, but faces the jealous plots of the Sultan's mother. The tale lacks the complexity of the earlier stories.

The Wife of Bath's Tale seems rather unusual and flat for such a vivid character. It is the story of the loathly lady' who turns out to be beautiful young woman when her husband (whom she had acquired by doing him service and making him promise any payment in return) submits to her wise governance. The tale carries on the concept of `rnaistrye' and ‘experience' and combines shrewd realism with romantic delicacy. The actual tale is preceded by a long prologue, where the Wife, Alisoun, describes in candid detail her life with and her tactics to procure her five husbands. Much of it is drawn from the antifeminist literature of the day, from  Jean de Meun, St Paul, Jerome and Jovinian.

The Friar's Tale is about a greedy summoner. They come upon a carter cursing his horse to the devil. but the devil cannot take the horse because the curse was not from the heart. Later they meet an old lady and the summoner tries to rob her of some money and then she curses him to the Devil. The Devil promptly carries the summoner to hell, because this curse came from the heart.

The Summoner's Tale: The summoner takes offence at the Friar's tale and interrupts  with a tale of a greedy Friar whose covetousness lands him in a comically humiliating position, when he visits a sick man to offer him superficial words of comfort and divide a deathbed legacy.

 The Clerk's Tale: This is the story of the patient wife Griselda and her trials by her husband, the Marquis Walter. It is told in rhyme royal and carries wifely meekness and obedience to an extreme and is interrupted by Chaucer himself. This is thought to be repose to the wife of Bath's tale and part of the 'marriage group' of tales triggered by Dame Alisoun's narrative.

The Merchant's Tale: This is provoked by the Clerk's Tale. This is a tale of January. the old husband and Mary his young wife. January married young May against much advice from Justinus, and when he goes blind, she makes love to Damyan in a pear-tree. Pluto mischievously restores January's sight at this moment. but Proserpine inspires May to explain that her activities had been responsible for his restored vision and that she was only performing her wifely duties.

The Squire's Tale: This is an unfinished tale of Cambuscan, King of Tartary, who receives gifts on his birthday. Those from the king of Arabia include a ring for his daughter Canacee, which makes her understand the language of birds. The tale is incomplete.

The Franklin's Talc: It continues marriage debate with tale of Dorigin, wife of Aradragus. She will agree to the demands of her suitor Aurelius provided he perform an impossible task - remove all the rocks on the coast of Brittany. But her ploy to get rid of her suitor fails when the condition is fulfilled with the help of magic. However, Aurelius himself releases her of her promise in a burst of generosity and remorse.

The Physician's Tale: a morbid story of Virginia whose request to be killed to escape the amorous designs oldie judge Apius, is fulfilled by her father.

The Pardoner's Tale: like the wife of Bath, the Pardoner's tale follows a similarly candid and self-expository prologue where he confesses proudly to his own covetousness, a theme that takes up to impress his audience and persuade them to take his pardons. In the tale, three drunkard rioters set out to find Death and an old man directs them to a tree. There they find a heap of gold, cheat each other in order to posses all of it, and all are killed.

The Shipman's Tale: The wife of a miserly merchant asks for money from a priest to buy finery. The priest borrows the sum from the merchant himself, gives it to the wife, and receives her favours. When the merchant returns and asks the priest for his money, he says he has repaid it to his wife, who cannot deny receive the sum.

The Prioress' Tale: This rather bland tale narrates of the murder of a child by the Jews because he was singing a Marian hymn, and the discovery of the body later on because of its continued singing.

Chaucer's Tale of Sir Thopas: This is a brilliant parody of the conventional metrical romance. There is a steady meter, mechanical listing of physical attributes and other details, of the objects Sir Thopas carries, and so on. After about 30 stanzas of his deliberate burlesque, he is shut up by the host, when he offers to narrate 'a liter thing in prose'- the tale of Melible. Sir Thopas was in a six line stanza form with a trail —rhyme, where a pair of rhyming lines is followed by a single line of different length and this three-line pattern is repeated to make up a six- or a twelve-line stanza.

Chaucer's Tale of Melibee: This heavy prose homily is the other extreme of Sir Thopas. It is a long tedious tale of the impetuous Melibeus and his wise wife Prudence.

The Monk's Tale: These are series of tragedies, all about a reversal of fortune from high to low. In eight-line stanzas, it tells of the falls of Lucifer, Adam, Samson, Hercules, Nero, Holofernes, Alexander, and Julius Caesar and so on, before he is interrupted by the knight who can no longer bear these dreary stories.

The Nun's Priest's Tale: This is related to the French cycle of Renart the fox. The quiet realistic account is of Chanticleer, the cock and Pertelote, the hen, both belonging to a poor widow. Chanticleer is duped into the fox's trap by the praise of his father's singing, but was in turn tricked out of his prey by making him boast of his victory. The mock-heroic story is full of medieval sciences — medicine, astrology and psychology beast epic and rhetoric and wit.

The Second Nun's Tale: This is an account in rhyme royal of the life and martyrdom of St. Cecilia and her husband Valerian.

The Canon's Yeoman's   Tale:   The   Canon   and his Yeoman are the last of pilgrims   to join the entourage. The Yeoman tells at some length of the tricks used by his master in his practice of alchemy to dupe people. This shames his master so   much   that he rides   away. His tale proper is about a canon who practices alchemy as well as (though he insists that is not his master) who tricks a priest out of forty pound by pretending to teach him the art of making precious metals.

The Manciple's Tale: This fable of the tell-tale crow has many sources, including Ovid and the orient. Phebus has a crow which is white and capable of speech. The crow, tells Phebus of his wife's infidelity, and he kills her in a fit of rage. When remorse strikes, he plucks out the white feathers, depriving the crow of its speech and throwing it to the devil and this is why crows today are black.

The Parson's Tale: This prose sermon was intended to end the Canterbury Tales, even if it is incomplete, for the Parson mentions clearly that his tale will knit up and end this festivity. It is a long treatise on penitence and the seven deadly sins.

The Parson's tale is followed by Chaucer 's closing .Retracciouns' where he takes leave of his book.