About the Poet

Geoffrey Chaucer is regarded as the father of English poetry. He belongs to the late Middle English period. Born about 1343, Chaucer served as a soldier in France. He has business experience and served as Customs Controller, Justice of Peace, Member of Parliament and Works Officer. His literary contribution can be divided into three phases that demonstrate his development as a poet. The first phase of his literary career is known as the French Time. During this time, he translated and adapted works from French, for example. Roman de la Roses, The Book of the Duchess, and a selection of poems. The second phase of his literary career reveals that he is in touch with Italian literature and is therefore regarded as the ‘Italian Age.’ He was influenced by the great Italian authors Petrarch and Boccaccio. The poems of this time are The Parliament of Fouls, The House of Glory, The Legend of Good Woman, etc. His third literary phase known as the ‘English Age,’ documents his original contribution to English poetry. The Canterbury Tales is the major work of this period. John Gower, William Langland, John Barbour are the contemporaries of Chaucer

About the Poem

The poem Chaucer’s Complaint to His Purse deals with the theme of universal interest, which is also timeless. Chaucer complains about the purse because it’s empty. He reveals, in a humorous way, that a purse filled with money is another name of life.

Difficult Words

Bier– a frame on which a coffin or a dead body is carried/place before burial

Vouchsafe– confirm

Peer– to look closely

Steer– direct/control

Might– power

lyght: light in weight, merry, wanton

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but yf ye make me hevy chere: unless you look gravely at me, take me seriously

hevy: heavy in weight, serious, pregnant

stere: rudder, guide

shave as nye as any frere: as bare of money as a friar’s tonsure is of hair

conquerour: Henry IV Brutes Albyon: the Albion (Britain) of Brutus

lyne: lineage, descent

Have mynde upon: be mindful of

Central Idea of the Poem

The poem uses terms and spellings from the 14th century, but the detailed reading of the poem easily conveys the thought behind the poem to you.

The poet doesn’t count anything but his purse, because the purse is his dear Lady. He’s very sad, because the purse is light. It means there’s no money in the purse. He asks the purse to be heavy again to make him cheerful.Without a heavy purse, it appears that the poet is lying on his bier He calls out to his pocket to take mercy on him, and he will be heavy again, or else he will die. It’s only if there’s money in the pocket that’s going to confirm daylight for him. It’s going to be darkness of night without money. The poet needs to hear the blissful sound of money that is as vivid as the sunshine. The poet is appealing to the purse to be his life. He flatters his purse as the direct control of his spirit, the queen of comfort and good company. Every stanza of the poem ends with a plea for the purse to be heavy or for the poet to die.

The poet addresses the purse as the light of his life. For him, the purse is his saviour on this earth. The poet wants the purse to save him with her power i.e. money. He calls the purse as his treasurer. He once again prays to the purse to show him courtesy and be heavy again or he will die.

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Let us now learn the summary of the poem:

Summary of the Poem

The poem ‘The Complaint of Chaucer to his purse’ explains the importance of money. He feels sorry because his purse is not heavy that is not filled with money. Without his heavy purse, the poet feels willingly lying on his bier. Therefore he appeals the purse to show him mercy. It is the purse that decided his day and night. It is the blissful sound and sun-bright colour of the money that makes him happy. His heart will be steered by money and he wants the money to be his life. He calls money as the queen of comfort and good company. He calls his purse as his saviour in this world. It is the might of his purse that can save him.

Theme of the Poem

The poem is superlative praise of purse. The theme of the poem is a timeless universal theme I .e. importance of money. Though the poem is from the Late Middle English period, its theme makes it applicable to every age, every nation and individuals. Chaucer’s complains to his purse is not individual but representative. The poem underlines the inevitability of money in every period. The last line of every stanza turns Chaucer’s complaint into a request. The very poem assures that money is another name of life. Various comparisons used in the poem throw light on the significance of money in life. The poet intensely describes sound, colour and company of money. The poet reaches to the extent of comparing money with saviour on this earth. The poet calls the money as lady saviour, queen of comfort and good company. He feels sad if his purse is empty. It is his purse that decides light and darkness in his life. The bright colour of money and its blissful sound make the poet cheerful. This is how the poet develops the theme of importance of money.

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Comparisons/images in the Poem

To explain the importance of money, Chaucer has used very interesting comparisons. These comparisons/images not explain the external form of money in currency in the 14th century but also glorify its universality. The poet complains to his purse and asks it to be his dear lady. He compares the sound of money with blissful sound and the colour of money with bright colour of the sun. He further calls money as the queen of comfort and good company. The money confirms day or night in the life of the poet. If the purse is heavy it will be a bright day. If the purse is light it is like night. In this world, his heavy purse is his saviour. The purse is mighty enough to help the poet. Therefore the poet prays his purse to be heavy again otherwise he will have to die. The poet wants his purse to bring life to him.

Important Questions

1. Explain importance of the purse as reflected in the poem

2. What is Chaucer’s complaint to his purse?

3. Write a note on the images used in the poem.

4. Examine the theme of the poem.

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