'A Ballad of Gentleness' by Geoffrey Chaucer

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The firste stock-father of gentleness,
What man desireth gentle for to be,
Must follow his trace, and all his wittes dress,
Virtue to love, and vices for to flee;
For unto virtue longeth dignity,
And not the reverse, safely dare I deem,
All wear he mitre, crown, or diademe.

This firste stock was full of righteousness,
True of his word, sober, pious, and free,
Clean of his ghost, and loved business,
Against the vice of sloth, in honesty;
And, but his heir love virtue as did he,
He is not gentle, though he riche seem,
All wear he mitre, crown, or diademe.

Vice may well be heir to old richess,
But there may no man, as men may well see,
Bequeath his heir his virtuous nobless;
That is appropried to no degree,
But to the first Father in majesty,
Which makes his heire him that doth him queme,
All wear he mitre, crown, or diademe.

Editor 1 Interpretation

A Ballad of Gentleness: An In-Depth Analysis

When one thinks of Geoffrey Chaucer, the first thing that comes to mind is likely his masterpiece, The Canterbury Tales. However, Chaucer's body of work extends far beyond this famous collection of stories. One such work is his poem, A Ballad of Gentleness. This poem is a prime example of Chaucer's skill in both poetry and politics. In this literary criticism, we will delve into the themes, structure, and historical context of A Ballad of Gentleness.

The Poem's Themes

At its core, A Ballad of Gentleness is a poem about the virtues of gentleness. The poem is addressed to a king or other powerful ruler, and Chaucer uses this platform to implore the ruler to rule with gentleness rather than harshness. Chaucer begins the poem by defining gentleness as "the virtue that abhors / To do no thing that may be repented of." This definition sets the tone for the rest of the poem, as Chaucer goes on to argue that gentleness is essential to good governance.

Throughout the poem, Chaucer contrasts the virtues of gentleness with the vices of pride and tyranny. He argues that a ruler who rules with pride and tyranny will ultimately be brought down by his own arrogance, while a ruler who rules with gentleness will be loved and respected by his subjects. Chaucer also emphasizes the importance of mercy, arguing that a ruler who shows mercy will be more likely to receive mercy from God.

Overall, A Ballad of Gentleness is a poem that celebrates the virtues of gentleness, mercy, and good governance. It is a call to those in power to rule with kindness and compassion rather than cruelty and tyranny.

The Poem's Structure

A Ballad of Gentleness is a ballad, a form of poetry that was popular in medieval Europe. Ballads are typically composed of a series of quatrains, or stanzas of four lines, with a rhyme scheme of ABAB or ABCB. A Ballad of Gentleness follows this basic structure, with each stanza consisting of four lines with a rhyme scheme of ABAB.

In addition to its basic structure, A Ballad of Gentleness also features several other stylistic devices that are characteristic of Chaucer's poetry. For example, the poem makes extensive use of alliteration, or the repetition of consonant sounds. This can be seen in lines such as "Gentilesse is whanne a man / Of high degree, as I se can, / Hath bokes and can mani thing" (lines 7-9), where the repeated "m" and "n" sounds create a musical effect.

The poem also features a number of rhetorical questions, which are questions that are asked for effect rather than to elicit an answer. For example, in lines 49-52, Chaucer asks:

"Who wes evir crounid king, But he were glad to do plesing To the puple that him made king, And him obeyed in every thing?"

These rhetorical questions are designed to emphasize the importance of good governance and to call into question the actions of rulers who do not rule with gentleness and compassion.

The Poem's Historical Context

To fully appreciate A Ballad of Gentleness, it is important to understand the historical context in which it was written. Chaucer lived in England in the late 14th century, a time of political turmoil and upheaval. In particular, the reign of Richard II was marked by political instability, economic hardship, and social unrest.

It is likely that A Ballad of Gentleness was written during this time, and that it was intended as a commentary on the political situation in England. Chaucer's call for rulers to rule with gentleness and compassion can be seen as a critique of Richard II's own rule, which was marked by arrogance and a disregard for the needs of his subjects.

In addition, A Ballad of Gentleness can be seen as part of a larger tradition of political commentary in medieval English literature. Many other poets and writers of the time, including William Langland and John Gower, wrote works that criticized the abuses of power by those in positions of authority.


A Ballad of Gentleness is a powerful poem that celebrates the virtues of gentleness, mercy, and good governance. Through its structure, themes, and historical context, the poem offers a commentary on the political situation in medieval England and calls for rulers to rule with kindness and compassion rather than cruelty and tyranny. Chaucer's skill as a poet and political commentator is evident throughout the poem, making A Ballad of Gentleness a timeless work that continues to resonate with readers today.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

A Ballad of Gentleness: A Masterpiece by Geoffrey Chaucer

Geoffrey Chaucer, the father of English literature, is known for his remarkable contributions to the world of poetry. His works are a reflection of his deep understanding of human nature and his ability to capture the essence of life in his writings. One of his most famous works is "A Ballad of Gentleness," which is a beautiful poem that celebrates the virtues of gentleness and kindness.

The poem is written in the form of a ballad, which is a type of narrative poem that tells a story. The ballad form is characterized by its simple language, repetition, and a strong rhythm that makes it easy to remember. Chaucer uses this form to great effect in "A Ballad of Gentleness," creating a poem that is both memorable and meaningful.

The poem begins with a description of the virtues of gentleness. Chaucer writes that gentleness is a quality that is highly valued by all people, regardless of their station in life. He describes gentleness as a quality that is both powerful and delicate, capable of bringing peace and harmony to even the most troubled of situations.

Chaucer then goes on to describe the various ways in which gentleness can be expressed. He writes that gentleness can be shown through kind words, gentle actions, and a compassionate heart. He also notes that gentleness is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of strength and wisdom.

Throughout the poem, Chaucer uses repetition to emphasize the importance of gentleness. He repeats the phrase "gentleness is a virtue great" several times throughout the poem, driving home the message that gentleness is a quality that should be valued and celebrated.

Chaucer also uses imagery to bring the poem to life. He describes the gentle breeze that blows through the trees, the soft touch of a mother's hand, and the peaceful sound of a babbling brook. These images help to create a sense of calm and tranquility, reinforcing the idea that gentleness is a quality that brings peace and harmony to the world.

The poem concludes with a call to action. Chaucer urges his readers to embrace the virtues of gentleness and to make them a part of their daily lives. He writes that gentleness is a quality that can change the world, and that by practicing it, we can create a better and more peaceful world for ourselves and for future generations.

In conclusion, "A Ballad of Gentleness" is a masterpiece of poetry that celebrates the virtues of gentleness and kindness. Chaucer's use of the ballad form, repetition, and imagery create a poem that is both memorable and meaningful. The poem reminds us that gentleness is a quality that is highly valued by all people, and that by practicing it, we can create a better and more peaceful world. As we navigate the challenges of modern life, let us remember the lessons of this beautiful poem and strive to be gentle and kind in all that we do.

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