Gower Bibliography

Time Past and Time Present in Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale and Gower’s Confessio Amantis

Dean, James. "Time Past and Time Present in Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale and Gower’s Confessio Amantis." English Literary History 44.3 (1977), pp. 401-418.


The fourteenth century "possessed a strong sense of the past, a feeling for history and its bearing on the present" (401). What is unique to Chaucer and Gower is that although both "expressed the sentiment that the world had grown old, and while they both tended to cast the passing of time in moral terms, they also relied ultimately on personal sensibility to define the relationship between present and past" (403). Particularly the conclusion to the "Clerk's Tale" and the end of the CA provide moments where Chaucer and Gower "turn away from moralistic, clerical time and toward time as experience rooted in the psyche, what might be termed 'humanistic time'" (403). For Chaucer, the defining virtue of the Golden Age was constancy, precisely the virtue that Griselda embodies. It is the contemporary lack of constancy that the Clerk decries, and so his final lament compares the women of his time to debased coinage. Dean points out that it was ironically gold that caused the downfall of the Saturnian Golden Age. Griselda thus "embodies for the Clerk an ideal, to be invoked in poetry, whose virtue rebukes the present age of 'brassy' arrogance" (406). Gower's CA introduces the "world grown old" theme in its Prologue. Nebuchadnezzar's statue embodies in the shape of man as microcosm "the decline of virtue, specifically love or charity, in the macrocosm" (407). While the tone here is "disengaged and moralistic" (407), Gower also suggests, both in the Prologue and in Book 5's discussion of avarice, that the perfection of the Golden Age is located in man's psyche, in his innate sense of moderation or "mesure." The way back to the harmony of the past is through memory and poetry, a process symbolized by the poet Arion and put into practice through the stories of the CA. Gower makes Amans an emblem of division in love; like the senescent world, Amans is old and feeble. Amans's final encounter with Venus, a moment that is both "amusing and poignant" (411), allows the reader to experience time and its passing in a very personal fashion. In the end, for Chaucer and Gower it is not only that the quest for a clarification of the self leads to a recherche du temps perdu, but also that "the search for lost time leads to important insights about the self" (413). [CvD]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Confessio Amantis

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