Gower Bibliography

A Rhyme Distribution Chronology of John Gower's Latin Poetry

Carlson, David R. "A Rhyme Distribution Chronology of John Gower's Latin Poetry." Studies in Philology 104 (2007), pp. 15-55. ISSN 0039-3738


Using the evidence of Gower's internally datable poems, Carlson is able to construct a pattern in the development of the poet's use of rhyme as a stylistic ornament in his Latin verse. Gower's first compositions – the earliest portions of VC – are in the "relatively more informal and conversational" (15) unrhymed elegiac distichs. Leonine verses – in which the word preceding the caesura rhymes with the final word in the line – do occur, but at a rate (around 20%) consistent with chance, given the limited number of word endings in Latin, and most of these are monosyllabic rather than disyllabic. Some evidence of the use of rhyme for rhetorical effect can be found in passages in which leonines appear in higher than normal concentration, which tend to occur at the beginnings or endings of important sections. The opposite extreme is provided by the more elevated, more serious, and more ornate hexameters of TC, with regularly occurring disyllabic rhyme. The Latin epigrams in CA are in the style of VC: the final six hexameters, however ("Explicit iste liber . . .") are in the style of TC, and the couplet rhyme in the third and fourth lines suggests (as Siân Echard recently argued) that the two verses that follow, beginning "Derbeie Comiti," should be regarded as a separate poem. The turning point in Gower's use of rhyme, according to Carlson, is the "Carmen super multiplici viciorum pestilencia" of 1396-97, which mixes unrhymed sections largely lifted from VC with new passages in leonine hexameters, heavy with disyllabic rhyme, with the most ornate passages, incorporating rhyming couplets or repeated rhymes, again marking the beginnings and endings of sections of the poem. With these as his points of reference, Carlson suggests some revisions in the chronology of the less easily dated works. "Ecce patet tensus," in unrhymed elegiac distichs, he places before the 1390s. (R.F. Yeager, who had access to Carlson's essay in advance of publication, suggests on other grounds a date of 1398 in his recent edition of Gower's Minor Latin Works, p. 72; see JGN 26 no. 1 (April 2007): 19-22.) The poems with heavier use of rhyme, on the other hand, would be later, including "O Deus Immense," in the same style as TC, and "Tractatus de lucis scrutinio," despite its similarities in content to VC. (Yeager, p. 55, suggests a date of 1392-95.) Carlson also proposes different periods for the revisions in VC, but he also suggests some caution, noting on the basis of "Rex Celi Deus" that "even after he began to work with disyllabic rhyme, Gower retained considerable tolerance for unrhymed lines and monosyllables" (46). Carlson concludes with some speculations on the driving force in Gower's stylistic development, whether it had a "strictly literary-internal genesis" (49) or was related to a literary effort to reassert "right order" after Henry's usurpation; and he finally links Gower's more ornate style to "the same self-monumentalizing ambitions represented by Gower's late editorial business over his own work" (50) as he organized his literary legacy in his final years. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 26.2]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Style, Rhetoric, and Versification
Vox Clamantis
Minor Latin Poetry
Cronica Tripertita

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