Gower Bibliography

From Decasyllable to Pentameter: Gower's Contribution to English Metrics.

Duffell, Martin J. and Billy, Dominique. "From Decasyllable to Pentameter: Gower's Contribution to English Metrics." Chaucer Review 38 (2004), pp. 383-400. ISSN 0009-2002


In an earlier essay (in Chaucer Review 34 [2000]; see JGN 19.2), Duffell credited Chaucer with the invention of the iambic pentameter in English, but he noted Gower's use of the new meter in "In Praise of Peace," referring both to the influence of Italian models. He also mentioned Gower's experiments with a 10-syllable line in French in CB. This essay presents the results of a much closer collaborative examination of Gower's 10-syllable lines and credits Gower with an important role in the development of English metrics. Gower's interest in metrical experimentation, the authors argue, is demonstrated by the regularity of the octosyllables in both MO, in contrast to the looseness of his Anglo-Norman contemporaries, and CA, in which the "perfectly iambic" octosyllables (395), more regular than Chaucer's of the same period, mark Gower as "the first poet to employ the canonical iambic tetrameter in English" (396). Chaucer introduced the 10-syllable line in English in "Troilus and Criseyde," following his trip to Italy, and Gower's pentameters (in IPP and in Amans' petition to Venus in CA 8:2217-2300) come afterwards, but following his practice in the rest of CA, his pentameters are iambic, and they are "more regular than Chaucer's in both rhythm and syllable count" (394). The authors conclude that "we should ... regard the two poets as collaborators in a series of metrical experiments (involving verse in two languages), and acknowledge Gower as the first English poet to employ meters that were stress-syllabic in the strictest sense, regular in both syllable count and accentuation" (395-96). A large part of this essay consists of a classification of Gower's decasyllables into 8 types, 4 more common in French and 4 more common in Italian, based on the use and placement of the caesura. More interesting is the authors' establishment of the regularity of Gower's verse, because they offer some specific observations on how they assume that his verse should be recit¬ed. Final schwa, they note, is elided before all words beginning with a vowel or a diphthong, and also before all words beginning with the letter h, "whether of Romance or Germanic origin" (387). They also list a certain number of common words in which final schwa was not pronounced even when it stood before a consonant, and some others in which medial schwa appears regularly to be elided (387). They count only 12 lines in which a strong syllable falls on what should be a weak position, but 10 of these involve disyllabic prepositions, which because of their grammatically subordinate status probably did not receive prominent metrical stress on either syllable (391). Other apparent exceptions involve words of French origin which may have retained their original accentuation (392-93) and seven words of Germanic origin, which may represent genuine inversion but which also might also, the authors claim, have borne a stress on the second syllable. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 28.2]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Style, Rhetoric, and Versification

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