Feb 7: The Book of the Duchess

As detailed in the introduction, this early poem of Chaucer’s is ultimately about “the final blow that Nature has in store for all her creatures” —that is, Death (6).

In light of the conventions of Chaucer’s dream vision form (a form that usually places greater significance on spiritual truth rather than earthly love), would you say that Chaucer breaks this convention, or does he still uphold it in any way? What role does nature play in this?

5 thoughts on “Feb 7: The Book of the Duchess

  1. The core purpose of this poem is rooted within the first few lines wherein it is revealed that the speaker cannot sleep because he fears he will not wake up. However, as he eventually does fall asleep, he dreams of a forest and uses incredibly vivid, pleasurable imagery to emphasize nature’s beauty. It is in this forest that the dreamer then finds a sorrowful knight, completely altering the fantastical image the speaker was setting up while describing the scenery. Considering the conventions of dream vision form that hold spirituality over earthly love, Chaucer’s intertwined use of nature depictions (earthly) and heartbreak (love) ultimately advance the speaker’s spirituality by influencing his psychological state. At first, the speaker could not pity anyone but himself who had lost a love, but the dream forces him to empathize with the knight. I think Chaucer uses nature in order to show how spirituality and earthly nature are inherently connected to one another and not two separate values that have to be exercised one at a time.

  2. Chaucer upholds this convention in his poem by juxtaposing it with images of the beauty of nature. There are many instances of this opposition of beauty and death in the poem, first of all the dreamer finds himself in nature because he partakes in a hunt which will end in a death if it goes well. Then when the Dreamer is taken into the magical realm which is described mainly through the beauty of nature, he finds a man weeping over a dead loved one there. Finally the woman that the knight is weeping over is constantly described as having her beauty bestowed upon her by nature; “That the goddesse, dame Nature, Had made hem opene by mesure” (870-873), “For certes, Nature had swich lest To make that fair” (908-909). Yet in the end we learn that the lady is dead, meaning nature has taken back the beauty it created. In this way we see a careful balance between the beauty of nature, and the harsh but natural truth of death sewn throughout the poem.

  3. Overall I believe that Chaucer is upholding the convention. Throughout the story beautiful images are shown to the reader, up until the sorrowful knight appears. While the knight be mourning the loss of a loved one, and ultimately creating a depressing aura within nature, Chaucer depicts the death as becoming one with nature. When beings die, they are recycled through nature and nothing is left unused. Eventually the woman that died will become a beautiful part of nature that is visible to even the mourning knight. Even though she died, death can still be beautiful.

  4. I believe Chaucer does not break this convention. He uses earthly love and spiritual love to convey his story of the dreamer and it doesn’t seem as though one takes precedence over the other. Overall, the story is of spiritual love. The dreamer is not really in nature; it is all a dream but there are many depictions of earthly love such as the knight loving White and the description of the beauty of nature. Nature sets the scene while also giving and taking away White’s beauty. Nature has created everything within the story and is taken for granted by the knight who is sad that White is no longer alive, due to nature.

  5. I agree with those who commented before me – Chaucer does seem to uphold this convention. In a love story, there are several ways the author can go- either deciding whether to discuss spiritual love or earthly love — but I felt that this story places an emphasis on the spirituality of earthly love. Much like nature, love has the ability to give and to take, and often does throughout the course of the poem, but is still beautiful and pure, much like the earthly love present throughout the poem.

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