Gower Bibliography

Calling: Langland, Gower, and Chaucer on Saint Paul.

Davis, Isabel. "Calling: Langland, Gower, and Chaucer on Saint Paul." Studies in the Age of Chaucer 34 (2012), pp. 53-97. ISSN 0190-2407


"Calling" embraces both "summoning" (or "vocation") and "naming," not only in Modern English but also in Middle English (by way of the verb "clepen") and in the Latin "vocare," as used, for instance, in the Vulgate in 1 Corinthians 7:20, the ultimate source for many of the passages that Davis discusses: "Unusquisque in qua vocatione vocatus est, in ea permaneat." Davis explores the notion of "calling" in four late fourteenth-century texts ("Piers Plowman," "Vox Clamantis," "House of Fame," and the "Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale"), countering, along the way, Weber's oversimplification of pre-Lutheran notions of "calling," especially with regard to significance of activity in the world and the possibility of salvation for those in secular life. "Instead of earthly names and estates being naturalized, fixed, and God-given, or alternatively, alien and anathema to God, God temporarily suffers imperfect human 'callings' at the same time that he issues his own call. Thus, although human and divine 'callings' are not identical, they are also not necessarily distinguishable and in fact often coincide; as such, the characters within these poems, and sometimes the poems themselves, do not always disambiguate them" (55). Davis's analysis expands to include discussion of "use" vs. "possession" and "precept" vs. "counsel," and it perhaps offers its richest insight into WB and PP, especially where she draws parallels between the Wife and Langland's Will. Her discussion of VC centers on the narrator's role in Book I. Taking issue with those who, conflating poet and narrator, blame Gower for the disturbing allegorical depiction of the revolting peasants as animals in the vision in Book I, Davis emphasizes how "the poem reframes its invective as self-scrutiny" (80). Wisdom, exercising a role similar to that of Conscience in PP C XXI, "alerts the narrator to the call to redemption and does achieve his contrition, which is signaled by his kneeling. This call forces two related recognitions on the part of the narrator: first, that the revolt and storm are divine instruments and, second, that the target of God's displeasure is the narrator himself, who, despite having fled the terrors of revolt, has internalized and carries it within: he is the revolt. . . . In recognition of his own sinfulness, Gower's narrator evacuates the cavities of his heart. This thorough cardiac examination enables him to hear, on or over the wind, the divine voice to which Wisdom has already alerted him. Once the storm has subsided, . . . the narrator kneels in thanks . . . . The narrator's contrition and prayers, which culminate in this act of kneeling, are the turning point around which the whole poem pivots. . . . His own crying to God and God's answering call produce an antiphonal that emerges from, rather than being antithetical to, the tumult of other calls, which together constitute the revolt" (79-81). Elsewhere, Davis describes both the narrator's loss of his own voice and Gower's well-known use of the words of other poets as acts of "kenosis," in imitation of Christ's setting aside of his divinity upon assuming human form, as described by Paul in Philippians 2:5-11 (85-88). She concludes by setting side by side the ending of VC and the close of Alain de Lille's "Anticlaudianus" (91-97), illustrating "a commitment [in Gower's, Langland's, and Chaucer's work] . . . to imagine--although perpetually defer--the spiritual recoverability of the imperfect life" (97). This subtle and wide-ranging essay deserves to be read in full. [PN. Copyright. The John Gower Society. JGN 32.2]

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

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