Gower Bibliography

Gower's Mirour de l'Omme and the Meditative Tradition

Bestul, Thomas H.. "Gower's Mirour de l'Omme and the Meditative Tradition." Mediaevalia 16 (1993), pp. 307-328.


A valuable appreciation of MO within the context of the tradition from which it stems. Gower's colophon suggests that the work is best viewed as an example of devotional literature. Gower's choice of language may reflect an attempt to place his work in that tradition, since Anglo-Norman treatises on devotion evidently remained popular until the very end of the century. Within this tradition, MO is also not unusual for its bulk. The composition of vast formal treatises that were devotional rather than didactic in motivation seems to have been a fourteenth-century phenomenon, but there is no exact parallel for the choice of elements one finds in MO. One of the sources that Gower cites in the first part of the poem, the highly popular Meditationes wrongly attributed to St. Bernard, though very different in form, suggests the sense of "meditation" reflected in Speculum Meditantis, one of the Latin titles of Gower's poem, and it provides the rationale for self-exploration and a turning inward as a means of approaching God that provides the basis for the structure of MO. That turning inward occurs most clearly in the last part of the poem, recounting the life of the Virgin and of Christ, many details of which appear to have been borrowed from works in the devotional tradition. This inward shift, Bestul concludes, has parallels in Chaucer's work and elsewhere; and it "seems to articulate what appears to be a growing conviction in the fourteenth century that what was most needful was a private moral reform based upon individual self-examination, a reform which would hinge upon reflection and contemplation both as necessary activities and as sources of contemplation" (p. 323). [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
Mirour de l’Omme (Speculum Meditantis)

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