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"When that April with his showers soote/ The drought of March hath piercèd to the root . . ." With those lines, the poet and civil servant Geoffrey Chaucer heralded a new era of English literature. For three centuries, since the 1066 conquest of England by the Norman invaders, English had been second to French as the language of the elite. Speaking French showed that you were educated, aristocratic, and upwardly mobile - all things that Chaucer aspired to be. But during Chaucer's lifetime, Englishmen found a renewed interest in their native tongue. Chaucer was one of the first poets of his era to write in English - specifically, Middle English, the form the language took in the Middle Ages. His style was a unique blend of French, Italian, and classical traditions. It marked a new and uniquely English form of poetics. The language would never be the same.
Given that he died more than 600 years ago, we don't know all that much about Geoffrey Chaucer. What we do know comes from the numerous appearances of his name in documents related to royal business. Geoffrey Chaucer was born into a well connected family that firmly believed that what counted wasn't what you knew, but who you knew. Starting from his first job as a teenage page in a countess' home, Chaucer always knew the right people. Thanks to his connections, he enjoyed a successful career as a civil servant for Kings Edward III and Richard II. In the end, though, he is remembered far less for his political maneuverings than for the poems he wrote in his off-hours.