Propagating authority
Poetic tradition in The Parliament of Fowls and the Mutabilitie Cantos
in Rereading Chaucer and Spenser
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Spenser ends his career with the Mutabilitie Cantos, where in refusing to describe the clothing of Dame Nature, he refers us to Alan of Lille via Chaucer, who invokes Alan’s authority for the same purpose in The Parlement of Foules. Spenser’s representation of poetic tradition shares with Chaucer’s dream vision an interest in rhetorically linking the earth-bound poet with a community of readers who also write, a community depicted as both historically bound and transcendent. Spenser’s platonic representation of Chaucer as an individual precursor who is also a transparent vessel of divine inspiration locates the poet within the mythos of Mutabilitie subsumed by Nature: ever-changing and yet still the same, eternally linked in poetic tradition even as Mutabilitie threatens the temporal artefacts of poetic production and the poet himself. Like Spenser’s deferral to a remote authority through an intermediary, Chaucer’s chain of dreamers and books in the Parlement figures the poet’s reaching for a durable source of literary connection, and for both poets, the glimmer of tradition gives the poet a sense of crossing the boundaries of his own mortality while maintaining ties to the sublunary activity of writing poems.

Rereading Chaucer and Spenser

Dan Geffrey with the New Poete

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