Gower Bibliography

The French Balades

Gower, John. "The French Balades." TEAMS Middle English Text Series . Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute, 2011 ISBN 9781580441551


With the publication of this volume, the companion to Yeager's edition and translation of "The Minor Latin Works" (see JGN 26, no.1, April 2007), every last shred of Gower's writings in French and Latin is now available in modern English translation, for which some professional Gowerians are likely to be just as grateful as their students. In addition to the "Traitié pour essampler les amantz marietz" and the "Cinkante balades," Yeager has included Quixley's early 15th-century English translation of the "Traitié," with its own introduction, plus a helpful "Note on Gower's French" by Brian Merrilees (which will be most useful to those who already have some familiarity with Middle French). For the two main works, Yeager provides an introduction, the text with an "en face" translation, explanatory notes, and textual notes. The introductions summarize Yeager's valuable earlier work on the dates and intended audiences of these poems. He places the "Traitié" earlier than is usually supposed, closer to the date of the composition of the "Confessio Amantis," and the "Cinkantes balades" not much later, in the very early 1390s. The French texts of the poems are enough to make this volume worth owning, since otherwise they are available only in Macaulay's hard-to-find edition. Together with the textual notes, they appear to be taken directly from Macaulay, though I could not find any description of Yeager's editorial procedure. (The text of Quixley is taken from MacCracken's 1909 edition rather than from the surviving manuscript; see p. 163.) The explanatory notes often provide a valuable supplement to Macaulay's, tracing more of Gower's references back to their source, but they are stronger on the patristic background to some of the doctrines expressed in the "Traitié" than they are, for instance, on the allusions to contemporary vernacular poetry in the "Cinkante Balades." The portion of this volume that will no doubt get the heaviest use, however, will be the translations. As in his volume of Gower's shorter Latin works, Yeager offers a line-by-line translation that does not aim to capture the poetic qualities of Gower's verse but that does serve the needs of the student who is trying to make sense of the original. As an illustration, here is Yeager's translation of number 35, one of the best known of the balades because of its recollection both of Chaucer's "Parlement of Foules" and of the opening of the "Confessio," 1.100-07: "St. Valentine, greater than any emperor, / Holds a parliament and assembly / Of all the birds,who come on his day, / Where the female takes her mate /5/ In proper love; but by comparison / Of such a thing I am unable to have my own part: / Whoever remains alone is unable to have great joy. / As the phoeniox is alone in its home / In the region of Arabia, /10/ Just so my lady in the place of her love / Remains alone, where whether I wish it or not, / She has no care about my supplication, / Because I know not how to find the pathway of love: / Whoever remains alone is unable to have great joy. /15/ Oh how Nature is full of favor / To those birds who have their choice! / Oh if, instead of my state, I might be / In just that same situation as theirs! / Nature is more capable than reason is, /20/ And in my state it senses very well the path: / Whoever remains alone is unable to have great joy. / Each gentle tercel has her falcon, / But I am lacking what I want to have: / My lady, it is the end of my song, /25/ Whoever remains alone is unable to have great joy." One has to have sympathy with any translator: there are always a countless number of choices to make and at each point, some reader is likely to be dissatisfied. With Gower, some of the challenges stem from the fact that French was not his native language, and he often seems uncertain both about his morphology and about his syntax. There is also always the question of how literal one should be. I have a number of quibbles with Yeager's translation which I have discussed with him, and the main difference between us is that I tend to be more literal where he sometimes bases his translation on his understanding of the poem as a whole and on his desire to eschew what he terms "the clunky." Here are my differences in this balade. In line 6, "D'ascune part ne puiss avoir la moie," I take d'ascune part to mean simply "nowhere": "Nowhere am I able to have mine [i.e., my companion]." En droit de, which Yeager translates as "because of" in line 5 and "instead of" in line 10, I would translate in the more general and usual sense of "with regard to" in both cases. In line 13, I would take sique as "so that" rather than "because." Line 20, "En mon estat tresbien le sente et voie," I would translate "In my condition very well do I feel and see it." And in line 22, I would put "his" falcon rather than "her": a tercel is by definition a male, and Gower wrote "sa faucon" rather than the usual "son," substituting the natural gender of the bird for the normal grammatical gender of "faucon." (Yeager, in our correspondence, justified his translation by pointing to line 4.) Differences such as these occur throughout CB. I find the translation of the "Traitié" to be closer to what I expect on the whole, but there are a few bones to pick there as well. Yeager will be making some revisions in the on-line version of this edition, but these few issues do not detract from the value of this volume, and it will be a welcome addition to our libraries. [PN. Copyright. The John Gower Society 30.2}

Item Type:Book
Additional Information:Edited and translated by R. F. Yeager
Subjects:Cinkante Balades
Facsimiles, Editions, and Translations
Traité pour Essampler les Amants Marietz

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