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Mirour de L'Omme.

John Gower, by William Burton Wilson, rev. by Nancy Wilson Van Baak, Medieval Texts and Studies, 5 (East Lansing, Michigan: Colleagues Press; Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 1992). XXXI + 411 pp. ISBN 0-937I9I-17-5. 42-00.[pounds]

These two books continue the laudable process of opening up Gower's work to a wider audience. The Latin verses of the Confessio, allusive and difficult as they may often be, might not seem substantial enough to warrant a book to themselves: there is a lot of white space in the text, and much repetition between the Introduction, where the poems and the issues they raise are discussed by topic, and the text and notes, where they are arranged sequentially. It is all the same a project well worth undertaking, for the verses are important, providing a kind of running table of contents or series of abstracts for the Confessio, and emphasizing the similarities of the poem to Gower's other, more overtly moralizing, work. The annotations note parallels with the Bible, Latin proverbs, the Vox Clamantis, and the English text of the Confessio itself, where the substance of the Latin is often developed using the same images. Gower's fondness for wordplay is also expounded, and where possible reflected in the translation. There is an unfortunate muddling of annotations on the verses of Prologue III (where the bina virtute of St Peter and the Church surely refers to the powers to bind and loose rather than, or in addition to, the charity and chastity proposed by Macaulay). The elegiac couplets are translated into iambic pentameters so as to convey Gower's discipline of the line, often with notable success: |Quod creat ipse deus, necat hoc homicida creatum': |What God creates the murderer destroys'(III.V). Rhyme is not specifically sought (except for the leonine hexameters that close the work), but not eschewed when it offers itself.

Gower's French presents far fewer linguistic difficulties than his Latin, but the sheer length of the Mirour and its relentlessly commonplace content have encouraged neglect. The editors of the Confessio's Latin seldom cite parallels with the Mirour, though some are striking: the proverb on the power of words, herbs and stones, for instance (Mirour 25, 585-8, cf Confessio VII.VI and 1545-9, a parallel not noted either by Macaulay). Wilson and Van Baak's undertaking is of a very different kind from that of Latin Verses, in terms of length of text (75 times longer), annotation (minimalist), and form of translation (prose). The volume is intended to be used in conjunction with Macaulay's edition by anyone who needs more in the way of commentary, and reference back to the original is occasionally advisable when the translation is misleading (e.g., 8602 channelle sewer' rather than |canal). One also needs the original to get any idea of the lyrical, almost dance-like, movement of the stanzas that makes reading the work a pleasure. The translators none the less deserve congratulation on their endurance in the service of Gower studies.
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Author:Cooper, Helen
Publication:Medium Aevum
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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