Writing the “Cinkante Balades."

Nicholson, Peter.

Writing the “Cinkante Balades."

Nicholson, Peter. "Writing the 'Cinkante Balades'." In Russell A. Peck and R. F. Yeager, eds. John Gower: Others and the Self. Publications of the John Gower Society XI (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2017), pp. 306-28.

This essay discusses CB within the rich tradition of late medieval French ballades (especially the collections and numbered sequences) of Machaut, de Granson, the anonymous Pennsylvania chansonnier, and more. "Gower's relation to the tradition is complex. While he clearly adopted many of the most recognizable conventions of form, diction, and theme . . . the work also has some distinctive qualities that set it apart from every earlier collection of ‘balades’" (307). The most original feature of the CB may be its near-ubiquitous use of the envoy, a short stanza concluding the ballade which addresses the poem "from one person to another . . . What is perhaps most unique about that communication is that in 35 of these 48 poems, it takes place explicitly in writing" (314-15)--hence, the title of the essay. This use of direct address has an intriguing variety of effects, for example: the lover may write what he doesn't dare to say in person (318), and/or "re-enact" as well as describe the futility of his verbal appeal (321). As a dramatic device, the envoy promotes "our awareness of the addressee" (321), thus recording a relationship (happy or otherwise), rather than the usual complaint of a lover in isolation (321-24). An exception to the pattern is the highly original "Balade" 46, where the woman persona muses on her silent pleasure at hearing her beloved praised by others, with no suggestion that her intimate thoughts were meant to be shared (319). The final ballade, addressed to the Virgin Mary, resembles the ending of the CA in moving the sequence beyond earthly love, while not rejecting it (325). [LBB. Copyright. John Gower Society. JGN 36.2].


Gower Subjects
Cinkante Balades
Confessio Amantis