In Praise of Chaucer, Father of English Poetry by Moses Browne

Long veil’d in Gothick mists our Britain lay,
E’er dawning science beam’d a cheering ray,
Dark monkish systems and dull senseless rhymes
Swell’d the vain volumes of those ruder times:
When Chaucer rose, the Phoebus of our isle,
And bid bright art on downward ages smile;
His genius pierc’d the gloom of error through,
And truth with nature rose at once to view.

In regal courts by princely favours grac’d
His easy muse acquir’d her skilful taste:
A universal genius she displays
In his mixt subject tun’d to various lays.
If in heroic strain he tries his art,
All Homer’s fire and strength the strains impart.
Is love his theme? how soft the lays, how warm!
With Ovid’s sweetness all his numbers charm!
His thoughts so delicate, so bright his flame,
Not just praise we owe the Roman name.
What pious strains the heavenly piece adorn,
Where guilty Magdalen is taught to mourn;
Devotion’s charms their strongest powers combine,
And with the poet equals the divine.
When he some scene of tragic woe recites,
Our pity feels the strong distress he writes;
Like Sophocles majestic he appears,
And claims alike our wonder and our tears.
Does he to comic wit direct his aim?
His humour crowns th’ attempt with equal fame.
Meer fictions for realities we take,
So just a picture his descriptions make;
So true with life his characters agree,
Whate’er is read we almost think we see.

Such Chaucer was, bright mirror of his age!
Tho’ length of years has quite obscur’d his page;
His stile grown obsolete, his numbers rude,
Scarce read, and but with labor understood.
Yet by fam’d modern bards new minted o’er,
His standard wit has oft enrich’d their store;
Whose Canterbury Tales could task impart
For Pope’s and Dryden’s choice-refining art;
And in their graceful polish let us view
What wealth enrich’d the mind where first they grew.

From: http://spenserians.cath.vt.edu/TextRecord.php?action=GET&textsid=34105

Date: 1740

By: Moses Browne (1704-1787)

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