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Parliament of Fowls

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A dream‐poem by Chaucer in 699 lines of rhyme‐royal, possibly written between 1372 and 1386. It centres on a conference of birds to choose their mates on St Valentine's Day.

The poet falls asleep after a prologue in which he makes the Boethian lament that he has not what he wants, and has what he does not want. He then has a vision of a garden of the kind which is the setting for the Roman de la Rose and in which the goddess Nature presides over the choosing of mates. Three tercel eagles pay court to a beautiful ‘formel’ (female) and there follows a long dispute about the criteria for success in a love suit, the argument of which centres on the opposition between the courtly love approach of the noble eagles and the pragmatism of the duck (whose worldly advice has been called ‘bourgeois’). The debate is unresolved, and the birds agree to assemble again a year later to decide. The poem has rightly been called one of the finest occasional poems in the language.

Reference entries

Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343—1400) poet and administrator