Summary and Analysis Chaucer's Retraction



At the end of The Canterbury Tales stands Chaucer's curious retraction of most of his best work. He asserts that anything that displeases should be imputed to his want of ability and not to his will. He would have very gladly written better if he had the power. Chaucer then lists all the books that he revokes, which includes all his best works, and asks for everyone to pray for him "that Christ have mercy on me and forgive me for my sins."


Nearly everything Chaucer mentions among the books he revokes are imbued with or shot through with religious feeling, however secular the subject matter might be. Why Chaucer wrote his retraction is not clear. Many wish he had not. Nevertheless, whether from religious terror or for the sake of playing it safe with God, Chaucer canceled all of his secular writings. Curiously, he did not burn the work he thought most sinful, and he let the revocation stand in the same book with the poems "that sownen into synne."