Gower's Poetic Styles

Burrow, John

Gower's Poetic Styles

Burrow, John. "Gower's Poetic Styles." In A Companion to Gower. Ed. Echard, Siân. Cambridge: Brewer, 2004, pp. 239-50.

Considers the implications of Gower's "correctness," his "purity of diction" and his "plain style," the three terms that occur most commonly in the descriptions and assessments of Gower's style. The first is at least to some extent anachronistic, since there were no fixed standards of correctness in such matters as spelling, one of the features of language in which Gower's MSS are most consistent, in Gower's time. It does apply, however, Burrow observes, to the poet's handling of both meter and rhyme--both for their regularity and for the way in which they conform to spoken language--and to grammar and syntax, where Gower displays an impressive command of periodic syntax, perhaps because of his experience of writing in Latin. Gower's diction is notable for its virtual exclusion of "commonplace English poeticisms" (244) from contemporary popular poetry or from the alliterative tradition, both found in far greater numbers in Chaucer. The "plain style," finally, is best understood with reference to Gower's own comments on "plainness": it is a style unadorned by rhetorical display consisting of "simple words used in straightforward literal senses" (246). The resulting tendency towards the typical and the general is appropriate to a poem of exemplary wisdom. CA is not noted for its "richly poetic strokes" (248), Burrow concludes, which is one reason why it may fail to appeal. "In its limitations as well as its strengths, Gower's is essentially a long-poem style" (249), and while long poems themselves have gone out of style, the result can nonetheless be considered true poetry. [PN. Copyright. The John Gower Society. JGN 24.1]


Gower Subjects
Style, Rhetoric, and Versification