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Definition: Gower, John from Philip's Encyclopedia

English poet. Ranked in his time with Lydgate and Chaucer, his work includes Vox Clamantis (1379-82), an attack on social injustice, and his most famous work, Confessio Amantis (1386-93), a collection of allegorical tales on the subject of Christian and courtly love.


Summary Article: Gower, John (d. 1408) from The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Love, Courtship, and Sexuality through History: The Medieval Era

The English poet John Gower wrote several significant works dealing with romantic and sexual issues, most notably, the massive English poem Confessio Amantis (The Lover's Confession), of over 30,000 lines. Gower's French-language Fifty Ballads draws on the courtly tradition to paint a picture of a love affair between the poet and a lady. Like other of Gower's works, it exalts steadfast and constant love. Another set of French and English verses from late in his career exalt married love founded in reason rather than passion (Gower married late in life) in similar terms.

Confessio Amantis, probably completed in 1390, tells the story of a lover wounded by the arrow of Cupid. Cupid's mother, the goddess Venus, instructs the lover to confess to her priest, Genius, who tells many tales of lovers arranged under the headings of the seven deadly sins, each of which is related to particular aspects of love. The stories are meant to give moral lessons again emphasizing the importance of constant and mature love, what Gower refers to as “honest love.” (Gower's friend Geoffrey Chaucer referred to him as “moral Gower” in Troilus and Criseyde.) Like many medieval European poets writing of love and sensuality, Gower draws heavily from the ancient Roman poet Ovid as well as other classical writers, the Bible, and medieval sources for his anecdotes. At the conclusion of the poem, Cupid removes the arrow from the lover, now too old for love. Confessio Amantis was one of the most popular long poems in English during the later Middle Ages, surviving in forty-nine manuscripts and even being translated into Portuguese and Spanish.

See also Ovidianism.

Further Reading
  • Bakalian, Ellen Shaw. Aspects of Love in John Gower's “Confessio Amantis.” Routledge New York, 2003.
  • Burns, William E.
    © 2008 by William E. Burns

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