Gower Bibliography

The Poetics of Catastrophe: Ovidian Allusion in Gower's 'Vox Clamantis'

Nolan, Maura. "The Poetics of Catastrophe: Ovidian Allusion in Gower's 'Vox Clamantis'." In In Medieval Latin and Middle English Literature: Essays in Honour of Jill Mann. Ed. Cannon, Christopher and Nolan, Maura. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2011, pp. 113-33. ISBN 9781843842637


Nolan's focus is on Book I of the "Vox Clamantis," first deemed the "Visio" by Maria Wickert, who showed that it was composed later than the six Books following, which were subsequently attached. Her argument is a wide-ranging one, and difficult to summarize. At its core is the idea that the Rising of 1381 acted on Gower as a kind of personal and aesthetic crucible, out of which he came to forge a poetics altogether new and different from that which governs the "Mirour de l'Omme" and the last six Books of VC. This early poetic Nolan terms "a Boethian account of the relation between self and society, individual and community, dramatized in part by a dialogue between the narrator and Wisdom" (p. 113), and she says it is present alongside a parallel Ovidan account in the "Visio." By "Boethian" Nolan apparently has in mind Gower's sense of the poet as guardian of the established social and cosmic orders--the Gower, in other words, of "comun profit" who speaks from a disembodied space and time. At one edge, this "Boethian" voice is (or seems to be) the "vox clamantis in deserto" persona most commonly recognized by traditional Gowerian scholarship. Nolan, however, offers several dualities by way of illustrating her point."Boethian/Ovidian" is just one; she also makes use of "the poetics of attachment/detachment" and "the poetics of disclosure and closure" (passim., but see especially p. 132), all of which seem to translate into Gower's recognition that the best poetry must involve the heart as well as the head. She like others sees in the "Visio" the Ovidian cento and, by much thoughtful and pointed analysis of selected passages shows that, for the majority of Gower's readers as for Gower himself, those centonic excerpts would have conjured up their original Ovidian context, and hence Ovid's passionate embrace of things living. The effect of this is to "puncture the surface of the poem, producing openings in the text through which readers can access Ovid's verse in all of its complexity and multivalence" (p. 115). Ovid thereafter comes to represent the involvement of the poet's emotions with his art, the healing value of which (both for poet and for society at large) in Nolan's view Gower is forced to discover by the violence of 1381. She keys on the emergence of Arion at the end of the "Visio," treating it as a bridge to the larger figure in CA, and also most persuasively as evidence of Gower's developing sense of himself as man and poet, whose emotions have significance, not only to him, but also as a means of uniting all living things in common purpose and harmony, i.e., Arion's music. Gower comes to see this as a way not merely to heal society, but to improve it. In the "Visio," Nolan finds him working this out--and recognizing his kinship as a poet even with the peasants at their most bestial: "The Rising, too, is kind of disclosure; it is a form of resistence to the closure embodied in social hierarchy and repression. It revealed possibilities; it exposed injustices; it opened closed doors and disclosed emblems of power within. Gower's poetics of disclosure is called into being by the demands of the peasants for self-determination; his narrator is created by the crisis the rebels brought about. Their demands were shocking--not least, Gower suggests, because self-determination was the obsession of clerks and poets" (p. 133). [RFY. Copyright. The John Gower Society JGN 30.2]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Vox Clamantis

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