Gower Bibliography

Mirour de l'omme (The Mirror of Mankind), by John Gower.

Wilson, William Burton, trans. and Van Baak, Nancy Wilson, rev. trans.. "Mirour de l'omme (The Mirror of Mankind), by John Gower." Medieval Texts and Studies, 5 . East Lansing, MI: Colleagues Press, 1992

Review

Despite all of the interest in Gower during the last ten years, it is a safe bet that there are few who have gotten through the entire MO in Anglo-Norman, and in fact the poem is much less often considered by itself, as a whole, than it is as a compendium of allegorical and moralistic commonplaces which are extracted and cited in the study of other medieval authors. A translation into modern English is welcome, therefore, both to allow more efficient location of relevant passages but also to make it easier to get a sense of the entire poem. Wilson's translation was first done as a dissertation at the University of Miami in 1970, and it has been available to interested readers on demand from University Microfilms. It appears now in a revised version, with a preface, an introduction (somewhat shortened from the original, and still based almost entirely on Macaulay), some fifteen pages of notes supplementing Macaulay's, a more up-to-date bibliography, and a brief introductory encomium by R.F. Yeager. Wilson's prose is dry but usually to the point. To give some flavor, here are the three stanzas beginning at line 5125, introducing the discussion of Sloth: "To tell you now directly of Sloth, with whom the World intermarried, she gave birth to five daughters. Their disposition is such that they will never be worked in field or vineyard, nor will they be given up to the ordained prayers as they are commanded by sacred law. Rather they seek ease everywhere, and Somnolence, you should know, is the first of this brood. / 5137 Of Somnolence so much I can tell you: whoever is her proper offspring does his work by sleeping. If he has a bed he sleeps in it; if not, according to his mood, he seeks his entertainment elsewhere. But neither from request nor from coaxing does he labor but rather, as if heavy with sleep, both eyes closed, he dreams deeply and lies as if half dead, since he is buried in Sloth. / 5149 Somnolence lives in ease when she can sleep without objection on a soft couch enclosed by a curtain, where neither her subject nor her servant dares awaken her from any profit or damage; for then in ease she reposes and thinks of everything that will most please her delight. But if she must get up for any period of time, it seems to her a very bad thing until she can go back to her bed." The goal here is clearly to make the contents more accessible for readers with shaky medieval French; Wilson makes no attempt, and will do very little, to heighten appreciation of MO as a poem. Those who have worked with the University Microfilms version may also wonder if the translation can be relied upon. and it is a pleasure to report that the revised version by and large can, and that it is worth setting aside the old version for a copy of the new one. The original version contains some alarming mistranslations; the second stanza of the passage quoted, for instance, contains two errors in the older version which rather severely throw off the sense. A check of a much longer passage in the same section of the poem reveals that all of the obvious errors have been removed, and that there are other revisions as well at the rate of one for about every three lines, involving punctuation, word order, word choice, and substituting "you" for "thou," in each case an improvement. It is not clear, however, who should be given credit for the extensive corrections. Though Wilson, in his preface, thanks a number of people for their help in preparing the revision, the work of Nancy Wilson Van Baak, who is credited on the title page, is not otherwise acknowledged or described. The book is nicely printed and presented, though clearly with economy in mind (thus the line numbers are set within the block of text, as in the passage quoted above). A page header with the name of the virtue or vice being described would have been useful in orientating the reader; an index, too, would have been quite helpful, given the uses to which the poem is usually put. And one small but significant flaw in the layout would have been very easy to fix: though Wilson alludes to the loss of leaves at the beginning of the manuscript in his introduction, the first page of the translation contains no notice of the gap, and gives every indication that it is the actual beginning of the poem. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 12.1]

Item Type:Book
Additional Information:Foreward by R. F. Yeager
Subjects:Facsimiles, Editions, and Translations
Mirour de l’Omme (Speculum Meditantis)

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