John Gower

From Academic Kids

John Gower (c.1330 - October 1408) was an English poet, and a contemporary of William Langland and Geoffrey Chaucer. By his own account he was once commanded by Richard II to write a poem "for England's sake." The royal commission resulted in the composition of Confessio Amantis, a long poem of over 30,000 lines which despite its Latin title was largely written in what is now referred to as Middle English. (The poem is bilingual: English verse accompanied by a full Latin apparatus.) Prior to undertaking this major English work Gower had written long and short poems in French and Latin.

Gower's verse is by turns religious, political, historical, and moral--though he has been narrowly defined as "moral Gower" ever since Chaucer graced his friend and fellow poet with the epithet in a dedication at the end of "Troilus and Criseyde".

Gower's long poems are allegorical, though like Chaucer when writing in the vernacular he shies away from sustained allegory in favour of the plain style of the raconteur.

His most famous poem is his last major work: The Lover's Confession, dignified in Latin as Confessio Amantis. In this poem Gower was heavily influenced by Jean de Meun's Romance of the Rose but drew on a multitude of sources: the confessional manual, example-book, dream vision, frame narrative, chronicle, polemic. In it a lover (Amans) is probed and instructed in the seven sins by a priest (Genius) of Venus. In the course of this catechetical dialogue Genius relates tales (exempla) of biblical, classical, and medieval provenance in illustration of the sins.

Earlier, he wrote a book on the Peasants' Uprising entitled Vox Clamantis, where he shows no sympathy for the peasants' concerns.

Apparently Gower was born to an affluent family from Kent (Southeast England). He probably practiced law in or around London. He spent his "retirement" years living on the grounds of the Priory of St Mary Overys (now Southwark Cathedral) where, having become blind and aged, he was cared for by his recently newlywed spouse, Agnes. He was laid to rest in an ostentatious tomb which still stands today in the church.

Major Works

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