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Est Amor


ABBREVIATIONS: CA: Gower, Confessio Amantis; CB: Gower, Cinkante Ballades; Cronica: Gower, Cronica Tripertita; CT: Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales; CVP: Gower, Carmen super multiplici viciorum pestilencia; IPP: Gower, In Praise of Peace; Mac: Macaulay edition; MO: Gower, Mirour de l'Omme; TC: Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde; Thynne: William Thynne, printer, The Works of Geffray Chaucer (1532) [prints IPP from Tr]; Traitié: Gower, Traitié pour essampler les amantz marietz; VC: Gower, Vox Clamantis.

All biblical citations are to the Vulgate text, and, unless otherwise noted, all biblical translations are from the Douai-Rheims. For a list of manuscript abbreviations, please see Manuscripts in the Introduction.


The marginal Latin glosses, identified by a capital L in the left margin next to the text, are transcribed and translated in the notes and can be accessed by clicking on the L at the corresponding line.

Est amor: Est amor seems to have been written to celebrate Gower's marriage on 25 January 1398 to Agnes Groundolf, a fellow parishioner at St. Mary Overie and, as has been suggested by Fisher (John Gower, p. 65) and others, also his nurse (Gower very likely being in his sixties, although no birth record is known to exist). Est amor is commonly placed to conclude the Traitié in the manuscripts, with minor variation in the headings; it also therefore appears in most manuscripts containing CA: see Macaulay 1.lxxxv-lxxxvii and 1.392. The form is predominantly Leonine hexameter with disyllabic internal and end-rhyme, lines 1-15 in "-osa" and lines 20-27 in "-orum." Lines 16-19, however, are elegiac distichs with internal rhymes in "-guis" (lines 16-17) and couplet end-rhymes in "-or" and "-ita." In lines 18-19 the internal rhyme is also on "-ita." A form so mixed is not found in a closely related passage VC (see below). Noting the change in form at line 19, and because a third (albeit less elaborate) initial begins line 20, Macaulay (4.359) prints Est amor as two poems; Carlson ("Rhyme") argues for a single poem in three distinct stanzas, as adopted here.

The text here is based on S and F.

1-15 Compare VC V.ii, where many of the same oxymora are used. In VC, however, the passage serves to condemn knights whose feats of arms are spurred by lust, "cuius passiones variis adinuicem motibus maxime contrariantur" ("the passions of which are highly at variance with each other, because of their mixed emotions" -- trans. Stockton). The emotional turbulence of Est amor, ostensibly autobiographical and written in anticipation of his wedding, suggests feelings of groom for bride that would be surprising if Gower's relationship with Agnes was solely invalid and nurse. The source of the oxymora of VC and Est amor is quite likely Alan of Lille, De Planctu Naturae, met.V.

10 tenebrosa. So F, followed by Macaulay. S: tenobrosa.

16 Magnus . . . clamor. The metaphor is perhaps inspired by De Planctu Naturae, pros.V.

17 ambiguis motibus. Possibly suggests the planetary movement and influence of Venus; compare CA VIII.771-800, especially lines 777-80.

20-27 In S and F, copied as a separate stanza; in Tr, conjoined; see Macaulay 1.474.

20-21 Lex docet auctorum . . . coniugiorum. The authorities Gower may have had in mind might include 1 Corinthians 7:1-2: "Bonum est homini mulierem non tangere: propter fornicationem autem unusquisque suam uxorem habeat" ("It is good for a man not to touch a woman. But for fear of fornication, let every man have his own wife: and let every woman have her own husband"); or 1 Corinthians 7:9: "Quod si non se continent, nubant. Melius est enim nubere, quam uri" ("But if they do not contain themselves, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to be burnt"). The idea that, while virginity and chastity are more deserving, marriage is safest for most was a medieval commonplace: compare Whiting, W162, who traces versions to Alfred, ca. 900; and further Chaucer's Wife of Bath (CT III[D]52), Merchant (CT IV[E]1446-55), and Parson (CT X[I]915-17). See notes to lines 24-25 and lines 26-27, below.

24-25 Hec est nuptorum . . . virorum. The point is that marriage is of the flesh, an accommodation for mundane procreation necessitated only by the body. Compare Matthew 22:30: "In resurrectione enim neque unbent, neque nubentur: sed erunt sicut angeli Dei in caelo" ("For in the resurrection they shall neither marry nor be married, but shall be as angels of God in heaven"). See note to lines 20-21, above.

26 Hinc vetus annorum Gower. Fisher (John Gower, p. 46) and others following him suggest ca. 1330 as Gower's birth year, in which case he would have been about sixty-eight when he married Agnes Groundolf. This date is undocumented, however, and in fact Gower may have been much younger (see Yeager, "Gower in Winter").

26-27 sub spe meritorum . . . thorum. An interesting ambiguity is posed by conjoined idioms of faith and romance: Is the spe meritorum sought from wife or God? Does tutus continue to build upon the permissibility of sex in marriage or hint at impotence? Agnes' epitaph, doubtless written by Gower ("Quam bonitas, pietas, elemosina, casta voluntas" ["Whose goodness, piety, charity, willing chastity"]) and his assumed age might suggest the latter two options -- but the choice of sponsorum . . . thorum sounds another, more virile note, particularly in context of lines 20-21. In MO, lines 17137-17748, Gower describes Matrimony as Chastity's third daughter and a guard against Adultery: clearly for him casta did not mean celibacy. See note to lines 20-21, above.
3. Est amor

Carmen quod Iohannes Gower super amoris multiplici varietate sub compendio metrice composuit.
3. Love Is

A song that John Gower composed in a few verses about the many different types of love.
(see note)






Est amor in glosa pax bellica, lis pietosa,
Accio famosa, vaga sors, vis imperiosa,
Pugna quietosa, victoria perniciosa,
Regula viscosa, scola devia, lex capitosa,
Cura molestosa, gravis ars, virtus viciosa,
Gloria dampnosa, flens risus et ira iocosa,
Musa dolorosa, mors leta, febris preciosa,
Esca venenosa, fel dulce, fames animosa,
Vitis acetosa, sitis ebria, mens furiosa,
Flamma pruinosa, nox clara, dies tenebrosa,
Res dedignosa, socialis et ambiciosa,
Garrula, verbosa, secreta, silens, studiosa,
Fabula formosa, sapiencia prestigiosa,
Causa ruinosa, rota versa, quies operosa,
Urticata rosa, spes stulta fidesque dolosa.

Magnus in exiguis variatus ut est tibi clamor,
   Fixus in ambiguis motibus errat amor.
Instruat audita tibi leccio sic repetita;
   Mors amor et vita participantur ita.

Lex docet auctorum quod iter carnale bonorum
Tucius est, quorum sunt federa coniugiorum,
Fragrat ut ortorum rosa plus quam germen agrorum,
Ordo maritorum caput est et finis amorum.
Hec est nuptorum carnis quasi regula morum,
Que saluandorum sacratur in orbe virorum.
Hinc vetus annorum Gower, sub spe meritorum
Ordine sponsorum tutus adhibo thorum.
In the glossaries love is a warlike peace, a loving litigation,
Infamous lawsuit, wavering fate, unforceful force,
A peaceful fight, a ruinous victory,
A rule besmirched, an erroneous school, an irregular law,
A troublesome cure, a grievous art, a vicious virtue,
A damnable glory, a weeping laughter and a merry anger,
A sorrowful muse, a joyful death, a precious fever,
Poisoned food, sweet gall, life-giving hunger,
Sour grapevine, drunken thirst, furious mind,
A frosty flame, a bright night, a shadowy day,
A scornful condition, collegial and ambitious,
Prattling, wordy, secretive, silent, zealous,
A beautiful fiction, a juggling wisdom,
Cause catastrophic, revolving wheel, laborious rest,
A stinging rose, a foolish hope and a faith that lies.

Just as a great public outcry can be divided into small words,
   So love wanders in ambiguous movements but on a fixed course.
Thus a lecture heard repeatedly may instruct you:
   In this manner death, love, and life have their shares.

The law of the authorities teaches that the fleshly journey of good men
Is safer, when they have covenants of matrimony;
As the rose of the garden smells more fragrant than a bud of the fields,
The condition of the wedded is the beginning and the end of love.
For those married in the flesh this is like their rule of morality
Which makes it sacred in the world for those who are to be saved.
Thus I, Gower, old in years, in hope of favor,
Safely approach the marriage bed in the order of husbands.
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