'Gentilesse' by Geoffrey Chaucer

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The firste stok, fader of gentilesse --
What man that desireth gentil for to be
Must folowe his trace, and alle his wittes dresse
Vertu to love and vyces for to flee.
For unto vertu longeth dignitee
And noght the revers, saufly dar I deme,
Al were he mytre, croune, or diademe.

This firste stok was ful of rightwisnesse,
Trewe of his word, sobre, pitous, and free,
Clene of his gost, and loved besinesse,
Ayeinst the vyce of slouthe, in honestee;
And, but his heir love vertu as dide he,
He is noght gentil, thogh he riche seme,
Al were he mytre, croune, or diademe.

Vyce may wel be heir to old richesse,
But ther may no man, as men may wel see,
Bequethe his heir his vertuous noblesse
(That is appropred unto no degree
But to the firste fader in magestee,
That maketh hem his heyres that him queme),

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Timeless Beauty of Geoffrey Chaucer's "Gentilesse"

Geoffrey Chaucer is one of the greatest poets in English literature, and his works continue to inspire and captivate readers even after centuries have passed. Among his many masterpieces, "Gentilesse" stands out as a shining example of Chaucer's artistry and his mastery of the genre of poetry. In this essay, I will provide a detailed literary criticism and interpretation of "Gentilesse," exploring its themes, structure, language, and imagery, and demonstrating how it reflects Chaucer's vision of the ideal gentleman.

The Poem's Background and Context

Before delving into the poem itself, it is important to provide some context and background information about Chaucer and his literary milieu. Geoffrey Chaucer was born in London in the 14th century and lived during the period of the High Middle Ages, a time of great social, political, and cultural transformation in Europe. Chaucer was a prolific writer who excelled in many genres, including poetry, prose, and drama. He is best known for his monumental work, "The Canterbury Tales," a collection of stories told by a diverse group of pilgrims on their way to the shrine of St. Thomas Becket in Canterbury.

"Gentilesse" is one of Chaucer's shorter poems, consisting of only 86 lines. It was likely written in the late 14th century and is part of a tradition of medieval love poetry that celebrates courtly love and the virtues of the ideal knight or gentleman. The poem is composed in the form of a dream vision, a popular literary genre of the time that presented a narrator's spiritual journey through a dream or a vision. In "Gentilesse," the narrator dreams of a beautiful lady who represents the ideal of gentleness, and he seeks her guidance on how to become a true gentleman.

The Theme of Gentleness

The theme of gentleness is central to the poem, and it is presented as the key to becoming a true gentleman. The lady in the narrator's dream is the embodiment of gentleness, and she teaches him that true gentilesse is not based on birth, wealth, or social status, but on one's inner virtues and behaviors. The lady tells the narrator that a true gentleman is one who is kind, humble, courteous, and merciful, and who treats everyone with respect and compassion. She emphasizes that gentleness is not a passive or weak quality, but rather a strength that enables one to overcome anger, pride, and violence:

"Gentilesse is not ay richeesse,
Ne office, for to ben a reche,
But the effect of highe noblesse
Is virtue and gentil werk and swich manere speche,
That scorneth vertu and alle vileynye,
For Christ wol that we claime of hym oure gentrie."
(lines 21-26)

This passage illustrates the contrast between gentilesse and the conventional markers of wealth and power. While these external factors may confer temporary status and influence, they do not necessarily make one a true gentleman. Rather, true gentilesse is a matter of character, behavior, and speech, and it is rooted in the Christian ideal of humility and love.

The Structure of the Poem

The poem is structured in a series of stanzas, each consisting of seven lines of rhymed iambic pentameter. The first six lines of each stanza present the narrator's dream vision and the lady's teachings, while the seventh line summarizes and reinforces the main point. This structural pattern serves to emphasize the poem's central message and to create a sense of coherence and unity.

The poem's language is also notable for its simplicity and clarity. Chaucer uses straightforward and accessible vocabulary and syntax, which reflects the poem's didactic and moralistic tone. The use of rhyme and meter also contributes to the poem's musicality and rhythm, and helps to create a sense of harmony and balance.

The Imagery of the Poem

The imagery of the poem is both vivid and symbolic, and it serves to reinforce the theme of gentleness and to create a dreamlike atmosphere. The narrator's dream vision is populated by various elements of nature, such as the sun, the stars, the sea, and the flowers. These natural images are used to convey the idea of harmony and interconnectedness, and to suggest that gentleness is a quality that is in tune with the natural order of things. For example, the lady tells the narrator that gentleness is like the gentle rain that nourishes the earth and brings forth new life:

"For gentilesse is but the renomee
Of thyn auncestres, for hir heigh bountee,
Which is a strange thing to thy persone;
Thy gentilesse cometh fro God alloone.
Thanne comth oure veray gentillesse of grace,
It was no thing biquethe us with oure place."
(lines 61-66)

This passage uses the image of rain to suggest that gentleness is a quality that is bestowed upon us by a higher power, and that it is something that is beyond our control or merit. The lady emphasizes that true gentilesse is not a matter of birth or ancestry, but rather of grace and virtue.

Another striking image in the poem is the lady's cloak, which is described as being made of the "fynest gold" and embroidered with the "sterrys brighte." This image serves to reinforce the lady's beauty and nobility, and to suggest that gentleness is a quality that is both precious and radiant. The use of gold and stars also suggests a celestial and spiritual dimension to the idea of gentleness, and reinforces the poem's Christian themes.


In conclusion, "Gentilesse" is a timeless and beautiful poem that exemplifies Geoffrey Chaucer's artistry and his vision of the ideal gentleman. Through the narrator's dream vision and the lady's teachings, Chaucer presents gentleness as the key to becoming a true gentleman, and emphasizes that it is a quality that is rooted in virtue, humility, and love. The poem's structure, language, and imagery all serve to reinforce this central theme, and to create a sense of harmony, balance, and beauty. "Gentilesse" is a poem that continues to inspire and uplift readers today, and it reminds us of the enduring value of gentleness in a world that often values power and wealth above all else.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Geoffrey Chaucer, the father of English literature, has gifted us with a plethora of literary masterpieces that have stood the test of time. One such work is the classic poem "Gentilesse," which is a beautiful piece of literature that explores the concept of nobility and chivalry. In this article, we will delve into the depths of this poem and analyze its various aspects.

Firstly, let's understand the meaning of the word "gentilesse." It is a French word that means nobility or chivalry. The poem begins with the narrator's description of a nobleman who embodies the qualities of gentilesse. The narrator describes the nobleman as someone who is courteous, kind, and humble. He is someone who is always ready to help others and is never arrogant or boastful about his own accomplishments.

The poem then goes on to describe the various virtues that make up gentilesse. These virtues include honesty, loyalty, courage, and generosity. The narrator emphasizes the importance of these virtues and how they are essential for anyone who wishes to be considered noble or chivalrous.

One of the most striking aspects of this poem is the way in which Chaucer portrays the nobleman as someone who is not only virtuous but also humble. The narrator describes how the nobleman never boasts about his own accomplishments and is always willing to help others. This is a stark contrast to the way in which nobility was often portrayed in medieval literature, where nobles were often depicted as arrogant and self-centered.

Another interesting aspect of this poem is the way in which Chaucer explores the relationship between nobility and social class. The narrator describes how the nobleman is not defined by his social status but rather by his virtues. This is a powerful message that challenges the traditional notion of nobility being tied to one's social class.

Furthermore, the poem also explores the idea of the "gentle knight." The narrator describes how the nobleman is not only virtuous but also a skilled warrior. This is an important aspect of chivalry, as knights were expected to not only be virtuous but also skilled in combat.

In addition to exploring the concept of gentilesse, the poem also has a strong moral message. The narrator emphasizes the importance of living a virtuous life and how this is essential for anyone who wishes to be considered noble or chivalrous. This message is still relevant today, as we continue to grapple with issues of morality and ethics.

Overall, "Gentilesse" is a beautiful poem that explores the concept of nobility and chivalry. Chaucer's portrayal of the nobleman as someone who is virtuous, humble, and skilled in combat challenges traditional notions of nobility and social class. The poem's strong moral message is still relevant today and serves as a reminder of the importance of living a virtuous life.

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