John Gower: Biography & Works

John Gower: Biography & Works
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  • 0:02 Who Was John Gower?
  • 1:36 Gower's Works
  • 4:44 The John Gower Society
  • 5:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ann Casano

Ann has taught university level Film classes and has a Master's Degree in Cinema Studies.

Medieval Englishman John Gower wrote poetry about religion, romance and even corruption, becoming an influence for English literature. In this lesson, learn about his life and his most popular works.

Who Was John Gower?

John Gower, who lived from 1330 to 1408, was a medieval English poet and seminal figure of the Middle English verse tradition. He was also a good friend of Geoffrey Chaucer, author of The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer respected and admired Gower and his work so much that he gave him a medieval version of a modern day shout out in his poem Troilus and Criseyde, which he dedicated in part to 'moral Gower.'

Details about Gower's life are a bit murky. However, we do know that he was born into a wealthy or middle class land-owning family from Yorkshire or Kent and that he probably practiced law. Gower wrote his poetry primarily in the allegory mode; however, some literary critics describe his work as plain. So even though Gower is considered one of the fathers of English poetry, after about the 16th century his work was not as popular as his fellow contemporaries.

However, there was a revival in the interest of Gower's poetry in the middle part of the 20th century, largely in part due to C.S. Lewis' mention of his work in The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition published in 1936. This resurgence has sparked a modern-day interest with both scholars and students alike, many of whom now consider his work extremely significant to the development of English poetry.

Gower's Works

Gower's poetry was considered moral, political, historical and religious. The first group of compositions from his youth was most likely ballades and carols. Yet, no works from this initial period are around today. His three most popular poems were: Mirour de l'Omme, Vox Clamantis, and Confessio Amantis. The poems were written in either French, Latin, or English.

Mirour de l'Omme

Let's first take a look at Mirour de l'Omme, which translate to 'Mirror of Man' and is considered Gower's first major piece of poetry. It was written around 1376, and begins the initial period of Gower's literary career. The allegorical poem was written in French and comments on married life, the fall of man, and what effects that sin may have on the world. Gower later Latinized the poem's name to Speculum Hominis and then later changed the name again to Speculum Meditantis. It is said that he changed the name the second time in order to fit in with the titles of his other works.

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