Gower Bibliography

'After the Forme of my Writynge': Gower's Bookish Prosody

Gaylord, Alan T.. "'After the Forme of my Writynge': Gower's Bookish Prosody." Mediaevalia 16 (1993), pp. 257-288.


Attempts to rescue Gower from a century's worth of comparison of his prosody to Chaucer's by distinguishing two different modes of versification, each with different goals. Gower's, he claims, is a "bookish" prosody, a "rhetoric of writing," meant for reading silently, quickly, and for long periods of time (as confirmed by Gower's own statements at the beginning of the Prologue), "a prosody cunningly adapted for the rapid but pleasant reading of many stories" (p. 260). The "unit of sense" of such a prosody is the verse paragraph, not the individual line; there is little opportunity, therefore, for attention to particular words or particular poetic effects. At the same time, Gower has no reason to adopt the "fictions of voice and the rhythms of speech" that are characteristic of Chaucer and Langland. The examples that Gaylord cites (which he prints free of Macaulay's editorial punctuation) demonstrate how different from speech Gower's prosody is, yet how it produces a forward moving narrative slowed only by deft rhetorical patterning at significant moments. As a more complete demonstration of how their prosody suits their different purposes, he gives a detailed comparison of Gower's tale of Florent to Chaucer's WBT: the first "is handled as a narrative with almost no conversation and no debate, moving unerringly to the demonstration that virtuous gentilesse will bring good fortune in life and love," and the second "is handled as an exemplum whose end has already been telegraphed in the Prologue, and whose every ethical point along the way is problematized, made the occasion for personal digression and argumentative emphasis" (p. 267). He concludes with a briefer discussion of "Apollonius of Tyre," again emphasizing the suitability of the prosody to the type of exemplary narrative that Gower constructs. Gaylord's analysis is based all but exclusively on Gower's tales; what is missing is any distinction between Gower's narrative style and the prosody of the dialogue between Amans and Genius in the frame, portions of which possess some of the qualities that Gaylord denies to CA altogether. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 13.1]

Item Type:Article
Additional Information:Guest issue edited by Robert F. Yeager.
Subjects:Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Style, Rhetoric, and Versification
Confessio Amantis

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