Gower in Winter: Last Poems.

Yeager, R. F

Gower in Winter: Last Poems.

Yeager, R. F. "Gower in Winter: Last Poems." In The Medieval Python: The Purposive and Provocative Work of Terry Jones. Ed. Yeager, R. F and Takamiya, Toshiyuki. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012, pp. 87-103. ISBN 9780230112674

Yeager questions an earlier reading of Gower's work, a commonly held perception regarding the poet's revelation at the end of CA that he—or Amans/"John Gower"—is an old man. Though a literary "masterstroke" (to borrow C. S. Lewis' term), this admission could strain credibility, for in 1386—"the usually accepted date . . . for the completion of the Confessio" (90)—the poet would only have been in his mid-40s or mid-50s. Yeager here asks "at what age" Gower could "have begun to speak of himself as old" and still be taken seriously (91). Even as early as 1380 he was beginning to develop for himself the literary persona of a man of "great age." The reference to age then, and again in CA, however, could "have been intended, and understood, altogether differently from how we commonly assess it nowadays: not . . . as doddering incapacity . . . but rather as achieved sagacity" (92). It is through the wisdom of age that Gower could aspire to offer advice to his "patron," the 19-year-old Richard II. Of course the effect of emphasizing that orientation, as Yeager remarks, may be "to play down . . . the framing fiction of love . . . and to configure Gower's poem as primarily political" (92). Alternatively, however, one may argue that the work's political power rests upon Gower's capacity to speak in not just one, but two languages, those of a mature wisdom and, as initially more appealing to a youthful king, of love. The conflict between these two languages is sustained through the work. It is reflected in Amans' "Debat and gret perplexete" near the end (VIII. 2190), and though it appears finally to be resolved when he or "John Gower" walks away, seemingly cured of his love sickness and ready to "act his age," it lives on in the poet's later "self-portraitures," specifically in several short Latin poems that he wrote at about the time he married Agnes Groundolf, in 1398. In "Est amor," he thus applies to himself the oxymora of love he had treated negatively earlier in his career, intimating, Yeager suggests, "a degree of inner turmoil seldom associated with our carefully, fostered image of the old, moralist poet" (93). "Ecce patet sensus," Yeager further remarks, "is similarly anguished": in Gower's words, "O human nature, which always has war within itself, / Of body and soul, both seeking the same authority." This poem sustains that conflict and still comes "to a perfectly plausible, though rather tortured, conclusion" (94). But by the end of his career, Yeager notes, Gower has evidently moved beyond this question, perhaps having found in marriage, as he himself suggests, a "rule of morality / Which makes it sacred in the world for those who are to be saved" (93). Now in several late poems (1400-02)—one an epistle dedicating the VC and CT to Archbishop Arundel, and another, "Quicquid homo scribat," a short poem appended to those works—the aged Gower focuses on aspects of his physical decline. Again these allusions form a literary device, one that here allows the poet to excuse himself from further comment on the conflict now emerging because of questionable actions undertaken by his new king, Henry IV. Yeager suggestively concludes that the poet's "simple plea to 'love each other'. . . is strikingly anti-Lancastrian (albeit not un-Gowerian), but it could easily emanate, not incongruously, from the pen of a deeply religious and reflective older man recently wed, who was beginning to think differently about the new state faction" (97). [Kurt Olsson. Copyright JGN 31.2]


Gower Subjects
Biography of Gower
Confessio Amantis
Minor Latin Poetry