Gower Bibliography

Poems on Contemporary Events: The Visio Anglie (1381) and Cronica tripertita (1400)

Gower, John. "Poems on Contemporary Events: The Visio Anglie (1381) and Cronica tripertita (1400)." Toronto and Oxford: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies and Bodleian Library, 2011 ISBN 9780888441744 (PIMS); 9781851242900 (Bodleian Library)

Review

The poems that are assembled in this superb new volume are the two long additions that Gower made to the original six books of the "Vox Clamantis": his nearly hysteric depiction of the 1381 peasants' uprising (which received its title, "Visio Anglie," from Maria Wickert, who first deciphered the layers of composition of the VC), and the "Cronica Tripertita," his post-usurpation Lancastrian propaganda piece on a very different assault on Richard's rule. The justification for bringing them together lies not just in their later composition but also in their shared departure from the original moralizing schema of the VC to "something else, effectively more satiric. On these two occasions, Gower wrote contemporary history" (David R. Carlson's introduction, p.8). These are certainly the portions of the work that will be of greatest interest to our students, and the value of the service that Carlson and Rigg have performed is heightened by the exemplary way in which they have executed it. Both texts have been freshly re-edited. Where Macaulay used a single manuscript for both (Oxford, All Souls College, Oxf. 98) in the belief that it was "certainly written and corrected under the direction of the author" (Works 4.lxi), Carlson uses Dublin, Trinity College MS 214 (Macaulay's T) for the "Visio" and Oxford, Bodleian Library, Hatton 92 (Macaulay's H3) for the "Cronica" (the only copy in which the Cronica appears apart from the Vox), in both cases seeking to represent what he deduces to be the earliest rather than the most revised state of the text.(For his choice of Hatton, see his 2007 essay, reviewed in JGN 28 no. 1.) At the same time, Carlson's record of variants from other manuscripts is much more complete than Macaulay's is. Carlson has also provided a whole new set of explanatory notes. In the "Visio," these are mostly concerned with tracing the source of Gower's borrowings. Macaulay identified most of the passages that Gower took from Ovid, but later scholars traced many additional lines to works such as the "Aurora" and the "Speculum Stultorum," for which we now rely on the notes in Stockton's translation. Carlson has few new citations to add (though there are some, e.g. section 1, lines 25 and 26), but where both Macaulay and Stockton tend to provide only the line references to the source, Carlson provides a complete quotation, highlighting the borrowed words in boldface, and when appropriate, a translation, and he also provides perceptive commentary on the choices that Gower made, both in selecting and in altering his borrowings. His commentary on the "Cronica" is more extensive and even more valuable, providing a detailed explanation of the events to which Gower alludes and of the relation between Gower's account and other sources, particularly the "Record and Process of the Renunciation and Deposition of Richard II" (which Carlson has also edited for PIMS) on which Gower's poem seems largely to be based. If the text and notes are not already enough to make this volume worth owning, we also have A. G. Rigg's verse translation. The unrhymed elegiac couplet of the "Visio" he renders in blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameters), and the leonine hexameters of the "Cronica," with their disyllabic internal rhyme ("Isla tripertita, sequitur que, mente perita") he puts in rhyming hexameter couplets. And in both cases, to the extent that I can judge, the translation enhances rather than detracts from the sense of the original. The effect is best illustrated with an example. Here's Stockton's literal translation of "Cronica" 3.186ff. (a passage I chose almost at random): "With the situation like this, the King remained where he remained before, until his whole following trembled uneasily. Such highly inexperienced men rarely become prompt in action; similarly, all these men hesitated to be helped from any source. Fortune then turned her wheel away from them and remained blind while the King crossed over the seas. His own guilt cast [him] back into those snares which he had fashioned; he was to be ensnared when he reached the shores of his fatherland." Here is Riggs' version of the same passage (and a little more): "While things stood thus, the king still stood as he before / Had stood, until his court was fearful all the more. / Thus few are quick to act, by ignorance dismayed; / All equally have doubts from whence might come their aid. / Then Fortune turns her wheel aside, far off from these, / And blindly waits until the king should cross the seas. / His crimes now drove him to the snares that he had set; / When he seeks home, he'll be entangled in the net. / Yet nonetheless, where winds propelled him for their sport, / Fate gave to him his own and predetermined port. / Wild Wales received the royal ships within her quays, / But quickly let them go, in view of Richard's deeds. / The king cast lots and ordered troops to be enrolled, / But got no help where he no favours had bestowed. / On seeing this, some smiled and murmured quietly, / But others wept for sorrow, grieving inwardly. / The royal pomp declines, since happy times have gone; / All quickly turn aside and will not fight, not one." Stockton's will still have its uses, but it reads like a translation. Rigg's is more accessible; it is more like the experience of reading Gower's poem; the verse engages the attention in a way that prose cannot; and it is difficult to see that anything has been lost. Rigg has given the students who become interested in these poems a chance to see that Gower's Latin is not as dry as dust, as they might otherwise have supposed. Let's hope that PIMS doesn't wait too long to issue an affordable paperback edition. [PN. Copyright. The John Gower Society. JGN 30.2]

Item Type:Book
Additional Information:Edited by David R. Carlson; Translated by A. G. Rigg
Subjects:Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Minor Latin Poetry
Vox Clamantis
Facsimiles, Editions, and Translations
Cronica Tripertita
Manuscripts and Textual Studies

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