In his retractions at the end of the Canterbury Tales Chaucer renounces nearly all his secular poetry except The Legend of Good Women and asks to be excused for his worldly vanity. His intention - he says - has always been moral instruction. If he failed it was not his will but lack of ability.

Scholars have been puzzled by Chaucer's retractions for a long time. It has even been suggested that they were not written by the poet at all. Be this as it may, one should take into account contemporary conventions and above all the fact that the retractions are pronounced by the narrator of the Canterbury Tales, and not by Geoffrey Chaucer, the man.

Chaucer's Retractions