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Chaucer, closure, poetry


The problem of closure plagued Chaucer throughout his career, and critics have continued to point out his 'inability" to end or finish many of his poems. This lack of closure often frustrates the casual reader and perplexes the serious scholar, leaving both to wonder if Chaucer was incapable of bringing his poems to an end or if he simply intended to tease his audience with such inconclusiveness. Neither answer is quite satisfactory. To understand that this inconclusiveness was deliberately created by Chaucer the master poet, and not by Chaucer resignedly handing the pen over to the befuddled persona whoo records his experiences within a dream or on the road to Canterbury, readers and critics must look at the whole of Chaucer's corpus, rather than at each poem in isolation. Just as the development of certain themes and motifs can be traced throughout the poet's career, the development of Chaucer's "sense of ending" can also be traced throughout his poetry. A tension between formal, aesthetic closure and semantic, contextual closure, fashioned in order to establish a pluralistic vision in the close of each poem, quickly becomes evident. This attempt too maintain two or more perspectives on the material presented in a poem results in semantic open-endedness. Such lack of commitment, on Chaucer's part, to any single perspective, ideology, or philosophy often frustrates readers who, after busily trying to unravel the complexities of the poem in hopes of discovering the "fruyt" (author's message) beneath the "chaf," discover themselves holding nothing but a handful of "chaf." But the "chaf" discloses essential insights into how to read Chaucer's poetry and holds the poem together. At the same time the master craftsman tantalizes his audience with semantic open-endedness, he also soothes and subtly pacifies them with some gesture toward formal closure. Often Chaucer makes this gesture by employing conventional tropes that would denote closure, such as a roundel in The Parliament of Fowls, so that after momentarily savoring the aesthetic elegance of the ending, readers find themselves suddenly plummeting into an abyss of confusion upon discovering that the very closing rhetorical move, which seemed to formally close the poem, never answered the most pressing questions posed within the poem but rather left it (semantically) open to interpretation.