Robert Henryson is also a famous Scottish Chaucerian like James I, and William Dunbar. Although his poems are unforgettable, but little is known for sure about their creator’s birth and life and literary inspiration. His poetry is, however, found prompted by Gerffrey Chaucer’s influence.
His most noted work The Testament of Cresseid is a sequel to Chaucer’s celebrated poem Troylus and Cryseyde. The poem describes the end of Cresseid when, smitten with leprosy, she dies, after Troylus, without recognising her, has given her, as a beggar, alms. The end of the work is deeply tragic and evokes pity, although the characteristic ethical note of the Middle Ages is strongly perceived. The poet laments over the fate of the lost woman, while recounting it, and the flow of his stanzas is as harmonious as his master’s. His other important work is The Tale of Orpheus and Erudices his Quene, his dynamic and inventive version of the Orpheus story.
Henryson is also found influenced by Aesop in his longest and, in some way, most popular work, Morall Fabillis of Esope which is a set of thirteen fable stories in a cycle that runs just short of 3000 lines. In this respect, his gift of story-telling is revealed particularly in his entertaining poem The Town Mouse and the Field Mouse. This is full of wit and humour, reminiscent of Chaucer. Henryson’s social realism goes here with his broad humanism and the sense of wit and fun.
There are also some shorter poems, thirteen in number, which have been ascribed to Henryson. These poems are varied in kind and in the verse form. Some poems are reflective, dealing such topics, as death, youth, age, wisdom, and so on. Some of them are allegorical, too, with didactic objectives. One of them, again, is a well conceived pastoral Robene and Makyne. This contains a sort of pastoral dialogue and in some way seems to lay the tradition of pastoral poetry, so much popular in the Elizabethan age to come.