Back to top

In Praise of Peace: Introduction


1 Thanks must go to R. F. Yeager for allowing me to participate so thoroughly in the construction of this volume. He is a generous man, and one to whom all scholars of Middle English owe a great debt: without him our knowledge of Gower, and, in turn, of late medieval England, would be far from that which we enjoy today. Thanks also are due to Russell A. Peck, general editor of the series, who first proposed that this volume be undertaken; it was his constant encouragement and gentle correction that helped speed both of us along.

2 The poem is not titled in the sole surviving manuscript copy. As Macaulay observes (3.553), Skeat called the work The Praise of Peace, whereas he himself titles it To King Henry the Fourth in Praise of Peace. Most modern critics, however, have abbreviated Macaulay's title to the more simple In Praise of Peace.

3 Fisher, John Gower, p. 133.

4 For overall discussion of Henry's conquest, see Bennett, "Henry of Bolingbroke and the Revolution of 1399." Strohm has suggested that the poem could date from as late as 1404 (Hochon's Arrow, p. 90), but this seems unlikely. Grady notes that "the poem's opening movement concludes with a hymn to national unity that, given the disturbances of the early years of the reign, must have seemed like rhetorical excess any time after October 1399" ("Lancastrian Gower," p. 560). The call to peace would certainly have been a more difficult "sell" after the Epiphany Rising in the following January, much less subsequent to the Franciscan plots of 1402 or the Percys' Revolt of summer 1403 (for discussion of the latter, see Neville, "Scotland, the Percies and the Law in 1400"; Arvanigian, "Henry IV, the Northern Nobility and the Consolidation of the Regime"; and King, "'They have the Hertes of the People by North'"). In addition to these contexts, Gower's reference to a papal bull directing Christendom against the "pagans" (lines 208-10) also argues strongly for 1399-1400 as the likely date of composition (see the explanatory note to line 208).

5 See Coffman, "John Gower in His Most Significant Role." For additional context of Gower as a poet involved in politics, see Green, Poets and Princepleasers, especially pp. 179-83.

6 Itô, John Gower, p. 106.

7 Fisher, John Gower, pp. 132-33.

8 Strohm, Hochon's Arrow, pp. 75-94.

9 Fisher, John Gower, p. 133. Such comment might remind us of Spenser, whom Karl Marx derided as Elizabeth's "arse-kissing poet": without denying that there is some element of truth to the fact of Spenser's loyalty to royalty, scholars have increasingly noted the often subtle subtexts to his work in which the poet looks to "tutor his queen" and "impress in her princely mind the confused misery which, because of her benevolence, corrupts her Irish colony" (Baker, Between Nations, p. 115; see also Bates, "'The Queene is Defrauded of the Intent of the Law,'" especially pp. 123-25). Gower, too, has been redeemed from later scholarship's not-wholly-accurate depictions of him as a sycophant.

10 For comparison between these two works in their stanzaic forms, see Itô, John Gower, pp. 101-17.

11 The full implications of this philosophical framework, whereby understanding is only approached (but never achieved) through constant revision of life and work, cannot be fully explicated here. I hope, however, to explore them more fully in a future work comparing Gower and the other famous habitual reviser of late medieval England, William Langland.

12 Alexander's other major tale in the Confessio, the Tale of Diogenes and Alexander, is also unflattering to the conqueror, being told by Genius only a little earlier in Book 3 as an example of Contek (Discord), another of Wrath's guises; see CA 3.1089-1328.

13 This conclusion goes against that reached by Grady, who accuses Gower of being "incapable of condemning Alexander" ("Lancastrian Gower," p. 563); for more, see the explanatory notes to lines 36-42 and 45.

14 A reading of the explanatory notes that here follow the poem will provide some notion of the many ties between In Praise of Peace and the Confessio, but see especially the notes to lines 24-25, 29-35, 36-42, 45, 78, 95, 107-08, 113, 115, 122, 155, 250, 337-57, and 365-66.

15 Confessions 11.15.20. For discussion of similarities between Augustine and Gower on time, see Gower's Confessio Amantis, ed. Peck, 1.1-5.

16 Confessions 11.28.38.

17 Gower, Vox Clamantis, ed. Macaulay, 4.20 (Prol. to Book I, lines 1-2); trans. my own.

18 The parallel, of course, is to Nebuchadnezzar's dream of the monster of time and the rolling, seemingly heedless stone that smashes it, both of which feature prominently in the text of the Prologue of the Confessio, lines 585 ff., and in many of its accompanying manuscript illuminations. For examples of these images, see Gower, Confessio Amantis, ed. Peck, vol. 1, figs. 2 and 4.

19 "Time is thus a kind of fiction - a tale, if you will - a distension of once-upon-a-time moments, stretching feeling according to measures made 'real' as the mind expands itself through anticipation of the future and recollection of the past. . . . We make tales of time through which we imagine that we can grasp its being" (Gower, Confessio Amantis, ed. Peck, vol. 1, p. 3n8, paraphrasing Augustine's Confessions 11.31.41).

20 Gower, Confessio Amantis, ed. Peck, vol. 1, p. 5.

21 Peck makes a similar claim in "John Gower: Editor," where he illustrates the "edited" quality of the Confessio and its ramifications for Gower's pedagogical style.

22 Here again we might note continuity with the Confessio, since Gower introduces Nebuchadnezzar's dream as an event that occurs under the "hyhe almyhti pourveance" of God who holds in His "eterne remembrance . . . every thing present" (CA Prol.585-87). In Gower's ideolect, a divine right of kingship is perhaps better termed a divine watch to kings.

23 There is also something to be said for the fact that the Latin lines are so few in number, and so soon overtaken by the English. Though he would never again, to our knowledge, compose in English, Gower clearly felt that there was a specificity gained in addressing the new king in the vernacular. And though one hesitates to look on this as nationalism, it does have the ring of national consciousness as Gower, once the voice in the wilderness, becomes the voice of the masses. Perhaps, too, there is significance in Henry's challenge for the throne, said in English (see Rotuli Parliamentorum 3.422-23).

24 Each of the stanzas begins with a flourished initial of some kind, but these do not typically extend above or below the line. The first exception to this generality is, not surprisingly, the first line of the poem, which is marked with a four-line, ornately decorated initial. The other "odd" initials are two lines in height and include flourishes that extend vertically through the left margin of the page. These have been marked in my edited text by indents and boldfaced initials. Macaulay, in his edition of the poem, only noted nine larger initials, failing to notice the beginning of the fourth division at line 169 - presumably due to the fact that this stanza begins at the top of a page, where the larger initial is less noticeable.

25 Peck, "Number as Cosmic Language," pp. 29 and 62. This essay is an indispensable introduction to the numerological rhetoric that so characterizes the Middle Ages.

26 See, for example, Rabanus Maurus' commentary on Eccelesiasticus 25 (PL 109.948) or Jerome's commentary on Ezechiel 7:24 (PL 25.238). Note also how the number nine relates to the novena, a nine-day devotional prayer of hope considered especially useful in efforts to recover failing health - something allegorically appropriate to Gower's hopes for England as Henry takes the throne.

27 Peck ("Number as Cosmic Language," p. 62), who provides the demonstration of the number's circularity in action: 2x9=18, 1+8=9; 3x9=27, 2+7=9; etc.

28 Chaucer, Boece

29 "And thanne thilke thing that the blake cloude of errour whilom hadde ycovered schal lighte more clerly than Phebus hymself ne schyneth" (Chaucer, Boece, For a brief account of the ramifications of the entrance of error into the world with the Fall, see Augustine, Enchiridion 17. For extended discussion of Gower's understanding of humankind's functioning in the resultant entropic world, especially in its conjunction with the Confessio, see Peck, "John Gower: Editor."

30 Unquestionable and firm to Gower, that is. We ourselves, living in an age following the discovery of non-Euclidean elliptic, hyperbolic, and spheric geometries, improbability theorems, and theories of uncertainty, are not so lucky.

31 On the fact that Gower's poetry is itself a harmonizing influence in the world, see Yeager, John Gower's Poetic.

32 I have imported a mathematical vocabulary for this discussion of the poem in order to underscore the importance of axiomatic logic in Gower's thinking. In this regard it is important for us to remember that Gower lived long before the mathematical revolutions of the nineteenth century in which the long-held assumptions of Euclidean geometry - namely, the five postulates in Euclid's Elements from which he derived his 465 propositions of basic geometry - were put into question by the work of Gauss, Bolyai, and Lobachevsky, among others (see also note 30, above). The axiomatic method, for Gower, was uniform and consistent, and Euclid's assumptions were considered self-evident. Some of the key mathematical terms I will be using in this section, for those unfamiliar with them: theorem (a proposition to be proved on the basis of explicit assumptions), lemma (a statement that could be the final conclusion of an argument but is being used to form part of a proof of a more substantial theorem), corollary (a proposition that can be easily deduced from a proposition already given), claim (a minor, but necessary or very interesting, proven result that can be used in proving another proposition), and remark (a claim presented without proof, usually assumed to be obvious).

33 Note that earlier, at the beginning of the 1390s, Gower had looked to the clergy "to praie and to procure" peace on earth "[a]ftir the reule of charité" and "[t]his lond amende" (CA 8.2995- 3005) - perhaps because the first estate, in Richard, had failed to provide adequate guidance (compare these lines in the first recension). By the end of Richard's reign, however, it was clear that the second estate had also failed to produce peace as the church continued to struggle under partisan behavior from a papacy promoting crusades against other segments of Christendom; the first estate (for England, at least) needed to assume reasonable leadership of the church. In late 1399, with Henry on the throne and seemingly backed by the second estate (see, e.g., the Cronica Tripertita on the role of Arundel and others in the restoration of authority in England), there was a new chance for the first estate to govern the whole of the kingdom responsibly, as it should.

34 On the fitting circularity inherent in the number nine, see note 27, above.

35 Gower had made Pity the fourth part of Policy in the Confessio, citing more exempla for the virtue than he does for any other. As he writes in concluding that discussion: "I mai argue / That Pité is the foundement / Of every kinges regiment, / If it be medled with justice. / Thei tuo remuen alle vice, / And ben of vertu most vailable / To make a kinges regne stable" (CA 7.4196-4202).

36 Ferster, Fictions of Advice, p. 88. Ferster's work is fundamental to any understanding of the mirror for princes genre and its function in the late Middle Ages. Her chapter on Gower ("O Political Gower," pp. 108-36) is of obvious relevance to the present subject, though the difficulties of giving advice to those holding authority is one that is traced throughout her text.

37 Or perhaps a "dark" optimist, especially if one accepts some of the more foreboding readings of his work - e.g., Hugh White's reading of the conclusion to the Confessio (Nature, Sex, and Goodness, pp. 202-19). Still, in most of his work, In Praise of Peace included, Gower ultimately seems conditionally positive in outlook even if practically wary in experience. Though he might not expect England to become Eden, he hopes for it to occur. And although he is aware of the inherent uncertainties of communication, still he writes.

38 Strohm, England's Empty Throne, p. 175.

39 Grady begins his discussion of In Praise of Peace by comparing Henry's response to the advice given him by friend Philip Repyngdon with that given him by William Norham. The former, whose work has a number of similarities of theme with Gower's (Henry as hand of God, an unrestful kingdom, the need for peace within the land), managed to become bishop of Lincoln under Henry. The latter, a hermit who rebuked the king, was beheaded. See "Lancastrian Gower," pp. 552-53.

40 Grady, "Lancastrian Gower," p. 565. Gower similarly alters his presentation of Constantine in this poem.

41 Here, too, however, Gower's confidence in addressing the king is borne out. Fisher notes that during Henry's 30 September 1399 address to Parliament, "Henry had proposed that he claim the throne by conquest, but Chief Justice Thirning had objected on the ground that a conqueror is under no obligation to respect the laws, lives, and property of his subjects. . . . [I]t is significant that Gower adopted the Chief Justice's position rather than Henry's own" (John Gower, p. 132).

42 For more on the crown in Gower, see especially CA 7.1751-74, where Gower extends his symbolic readings to include the various individual elements of the crown that together signify the primary virtues of proper kingship. A similar discussion occurs in Richard the Redeless 1.33-48.

43 It is this loyalty to the ideal that sets Gower so clearly apart from reformers like the Lollards, who had determined that ecclesiastical positions were by their nature tainted. In colloquial terms, Gower would no doubt accuse the Lollards of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

44 Macaulay provides a fine description of the manuscript and its contents (1.lxxix-lxxxiii), which I have confirmed by consultation with facsimiles of the manuscript itself. He includes most of the various notations on the manuscript, along with some discussion.

45 See, in particular, the notations on fol. 39v, where Gedde writes "This booke pertaineth to aged Charles Gedde," who claims in a preceding notation that he was seventy years old in 1651. To this, Fairfax has added: "but now to Fairfax of his gift, Jun. 28. 1656."

46 Fol. 1r: "For my honorable freind & kinsman / Sr. Thomas Gower knt. and Baronett from / Fairfax 1656."

47 On fol. 2v the name of "Rychemond" is recorded, along with a sixteenth-century inscription: "Liber Hen: Septimi tunc comitis Richmond / manu propria script." The other primary clue to its provenance is the cut-off words "Will Sanders vn Just . . ." on fol. 41r, the last leaf of the manuscript. Macaulay comments on its life between Gower and Gedde: "if we are to regard the signature 'Rychemond' on the second leaf as a genuine autograph of Henry VII while Earl of Richmond, it would seem that the book passed at some time into royal hands, but it can hardly have come to the Earl of Richmond by any succession from Henry IV" (1.lxxxii).

48 Echard observes that our awareness of Gower's linguistic variability is somewhat hindered by Macaulay's printing of Gower's works by their languages, which results in a view of Gower that does not accord well with what we find in Trentham, for example, a manuscript that "may well have been put together around 1400 specifically to showcase Gower's skills while honouring Henry IV's coronation. That is, the Trentham MS has particular and linguistic themes which become muted in Macaulay's rearrangement of its contents" ("Gower in Print," p. 133).

49 Macaulay observes that the ninth line ought probably to have been written in as well, since the grammar does not make much sense in its extant form (1.461).

50 Macaulay notes that this would stand against Warton, the critic who first brought attention to the sequence and considered it to be from Gower's youth, perhaps ca. 1350 (1.lxxi-lxxii).

John Gower wrote two known works in English.1The first, and certainly the more famous, is his monumental Confessio Amantis. The second is a far shorter poem called In Praise of Peace.2 John Fisher argued that the latter was, in fact,"Gower's last important poem. It sums up the final twenty years of both his literary career and his literary achievement. The former is obsessed with the king, the latter with the idea of kingship." 3 Whether or not one agrees with Fisher's assessment of the relative importance of Gower's later Latin works, many of which postdate In Praise of Peace, he is quite right in seeing this poem as an enchiridion of sorts, a recapitulation of the most pervasive themes of Gower's many works. Written in late 1399 or early 1400 on the occasion of Henry IV's rise to the throne, 4 In Praise of Peace once more places Gower in what George Coffman has called his"most significant role": that of advisor to the king on the nature of right rule. 5 To that end, Gower's advice would seem simple enough. As Masayoshi Itô summarizes:
It is a political poem in which Gower, as a loyal subject of Henry IV, approves his coronation, admires him as the saviour of England, dilates on the evil of war and the blessing of peace, and finally begs him to display clemency and seek domestic peace. . . . [H]e is asking Henry IV to apply a new policy of peace to the body politic - England - which has weakened in the long war against France. 6
Along the way, as Fisher shows in his own brief synopsis of the poem, Gower addresses"the parliamentary proceedings leading to Henry's accession," posits that"the Schism is the main cause of war between and within nations," and asserts"the superiority of civil to canon law." 7 Gower's recurring praise in the poem of not just peace, but the person of the king himself, led Paul Strohm to consider it simply a piece of Lancastrian propaganda. 8 And the poem's place as an English capstone to a career of writing for, to, and about England's princes brought Fisher to the point of questioning whether there has"ever been a greater sycophant in the history of English literature" than Gower. 9 The simplistic reductions of such observations has left In Praise of Peace in the same position as the shorter Latin works edited and translated in this volume: ignored, neglected, reduced, or relegated to the dusty realm of footnotes. But there is far more at work in this complex poem, as Gower's verse deftly weaves in and out of the historical, political, social, and religious contexts and controversies of its day. Even when he refuses to name names, Gower is always topical.

In Praise of Peace and the Confessio Amantis

In Praise of Peace is written in rhyme royal, the same verse form that Gower used for Amans' prayer to Venus at the end of the Confessio Amantis (8.2217-2300), 10 and this formal, stylistic echo points to deeper thematic and imaginative continuities between Gower's two English poems. Near the conclusion of the earlier work, after Venus has replied favorably to Amans' supplication and is preparing to take her leave from the newly identified and reunified"John Gower," the goddess gives the aging poet a last set of instructions:
Mi sone, be wel war therfore,
And kep the sentence of my lore
And tarie thou mi court no more,
Bot go ther vertu moral duelleth,
Wher ben thi bokes, as men telleth,
Whiche of long time thou hast write. (CA 8.2922-27)
well advised

Forced from the court of Love, Gower is instructed to return to the books he has so long labored over, books where moral virtues can be found. Venus calls for a revisitation of the past as a present connection to the future; she asks him, as it were, to try it all over again. 11 We know that Gower was not averse to altering the Confessio - nowhere is this more clearly attested to than in his revisions to the prologue and conclusion as he moves from a Ricardian to a Lancastrian recension - but we can see, too, that Venus' order is directed at more than just revisions of the Confessio: many of Gower's writings after the"completion" of his English magnum opus revolve around the recasting of themes from his earlier works. This recasting process can be not only thematic in theory, but also literal in practice as Gower at times recycles specific lines from one poem into another. Even so, we must be careful not to view such recapitulations, whether general or particular, as signs of laziness or lack of imagination on the part of the poet; to the contrary, they are renewals of purpose that reveal a remarkable continuity of thinking on Gower's part. When Venus asks the poet to begin again, she does not say whether she expects him necessarily to come to a different conclusion. Indeed, the unidirectional nature of time would dictate, for instance, that the ending of the Confessio, with its stark realization of age and natural incapacities, is the only ending that could ever be reached. The poet's refashioning is thus predetermined, dictated by the original delineation of the poem (of its creation, we might say) not because Gower refuses to change his mind but because, since nothing could be more deliberate than the natural state of the poet's mind, time invariably has its way.

Book 3 of the Confessio is devoted to Wrath, which stands against the virtues of patience and mercy. Foremost among this vice's guises, Genius explains, is Homicide - not only a vice but a mortal sin. As his first exemplum to warn Amans about the danger of Homicide, Genius uses the Tale of Alexander and the Pirate, in which Alexander is repeatedly termed a tyrant and which reveals the difference between the rogue and the conqueror as one of semantics. 12 At the conclusion of the tale Genius admits that Alexander had success for a time, but he is also quick to point out the bleak end of his life:
And as he hath the world mistimed
Noght as he scholde with his wit,
Noght as he wolde it was aquit.
Thus was he slain that whilom slowh,    
And he which riche was ynowh
This dai, tomorwe he hadde noght.
And in such wise as he hath wroght
In destorbance of worldes pes,
His werre he fond thanne endeles,
In which forevere desconfit
He was. (CA 3.2458-68)



Gower presents Alexander as a man for whom endless war - the consequence of mistimed judgments - is a kind of piracy that destroys both the state and the graces of peace.

Despite such a warning, the possibility that the newly crowned Henry might long to follow Alexander in conquest was apparently very much in the air as Gower is writing In Praise of Peace: Frank Grady points out that Jean Creton, in his Histoire du Roy d'Angleterre Richard,"describes how the 'simple and over-credulous' commons, impressed with 'how that he had conquered the whole kingdom of England in less than a month,' 'said, that he would conquer one of the great portions of the world, and compared him even to Alexander the Great'" ("Lancastrian Gower," p. 564). Gower's subsequent use of Alexander in his new poem as a model to be feared rather than followed is intimately tied, no doubt, to what Gower perceived as the threat of such aspirations. Alexander, for Gower, had never been a model worthy of emulation, and Henry's successes, though real, did not change that opinion. 13 Gower gives every indication that he expects Henry to be aware of the corresponding treatments of his subject in the Confessio and In Praise of Peace, and, indeed, Gower goes some way toward underscoring the correlation between the poems by adapting for the central argument of In Praise of Peace numerous lines from Genius' lecture against Homicide and war - especially those lines immediately preceding the Tale of Alexander and the Pirate. 14 The literal refashioning of lines, which even extends to Gower's Latin works, corresponds to the general recapitulation of his career in this poem, and reveals various levels at which Gower's revisionary process unfolds. We are able to see, thereby, that the poet's comments against war and killing in Book 3 of the Confessio, for example, were never to be understood as definitive: they were perpetual, ever-renewed and ever-renewing.

Gower never views time in a static way. Quite to the contrary, he follows Augustine who, in his own Confessio, had pronounced the present moment to be an immeasurable, transitive, and essentially non-existent illusion, created within the mind of memory as it struggles to conceive of itself between an imagined past and a potential future. 15 Augustine's famous example for this concept is the reciting of a psalm, an act through which he is able to bridge past and future, effectively building a temporal, if temporary, present. 16Gower announces his own debt to these Augustinian principles in his massive Latin poem Vox Clamantis, which he begins with the lines"Scripture veteris capiunt exempla futuri, / Nam dabit experta res magis esse fidem" ["Old writings hold examples for the future, / For a thing put to the test will grant greater faith"]. 17 Reading, as it presents the past within the moment, is the perpetual key to comprehension. In the face of the monstrous chaos of time, which, like the mind that perceives it, is perpetually being reinvented by its own passing in the same way that a rock rolling down a mountain alters both itself and the slope on which it moves, 18 all man can do is to try and grip the present, futile task though it must be, by crafting stories of his past. 19And if those stories are the key to our comprehending both past and our constantly reconceived present, they are thus the key to our preparing for the future. All is dependent, it seems, on right reading of our own invented fictions. As Russell A. Peck states the matter,"Gower enters into a refined phenomenology where time, history, memory, and a fictionalizing of the past make discourse of the 'now'-world presentable." 20 The poet's rewritings thus reassert a single-minded agenda and vision, a philosophy of logic in the face of chaos that, as we will see, Gower builds structurally into In Praise of Peace so that we might more easily comprehend its message of rational morality. Gower's poetics, in other words, are always textual. 21

The Poem and Its Structure

Writing for Henry IV shortly after (or perhaps on the very occasion of) his coronation, Gower could not be faulted if he were to have regarded In Praise of Peace as the final movement in his long, often tragic literary symphony that honored his homeland even as it lamented so much of what had befallen it. With the new dawn of Henry's rule, Gower's voice would no longer be a voice on the outside, one crying out in the wilderness and resolutely exposing the moral desolation of his age. Now his could be a voice on the inside, one directly guiding the ruler of his country and gently correcting that desolation. The hope that he had held for England despite all of its travails - a battered but defiant hope that is probably most clearly expressed in the prayer for England at the end of the Lancastrian"third recension" of his Confessio - had been fulfilled. Times were changing. In the Cronica Tripertita Gower had outlined the many iniquities and perversions of right during Richard's reign that called out for intervention, and that intervention had come in the form of Henry, who had stepped into the breach first to claim what was rightfully his, then to restore proper law whereby all England might once again live in mutual productivity. The tone of the successive In Praise of Peace is, if not triumphant, determinedly optimistic. In this light, we might view the poem as a coda to Gower's long career, restating and reinvigorating his famously moral principles about just rule of self and society.

Gower sets forth the essence of the principles he will expound in the Latin proem that introduces In Praise of Peace. Like so much of his Latin work, this seven-line epigram is meticulously crafted, setting a careful tone for the vernacular work that follows it. Beginning with commendation for Henry's assumption to the throne, its first words,"Electus Cristi," speak volumes. Henry is Christ's elect, His chosen keeper of the throne of England. Such a commendation glorifies Henry, of course, signifying a"divine right" to his kingship, and it simultaneously places Henry into a more passive role than his armed conquest might otherwise attest - the latter"passivication" paralleling the pacification Gower will counsel throughout the poem that follows. But there is another, perhaps sharper, edge implied in such a start. Placing Christ at the beginning of his poem is a call for humility. Not only is it a reminder of Christ's own humility, but it is also a reminder that, even at the zenith of his fortunes and power, Henry must recognize a greater authority who as Word was God in Creation: the secular rights of the king are ultimately subservient to the sacred rights of divinity. 22 Gower's subsequent phrase in the Latin underlines this very point, as he characterizes the king as"pie Rex Henrice," a description that could mean respectful, dutiful, faithful, devoted, loyal, conscientious, devout, or even righteous. The next two lines of the Latin proem present Henry's assumption as rightful and good; Richard's reign, by implied contrast, was evil. In the following line Gower speaks of the new joy brought to the people of England, praise not to flatter the king, but to remind him that his primary duty is to care for those very people.

The remainder of the opening proem conveys the new hope that Gower has for the land, words that remind the king of the poet's prayer for England at the end of the Henry-dedication of the Confessio even as the poet embarks on a new English prayer asking for the king to restore grace to the land through free and honest blessing. This Latin poem thus establishes several of the themes that run through the vernacular poem that follows: positioning of the king in relationship to Christ, praise of Henry tempered with warning counsel, and subtle reminders that rule of self must be maintained through awareness of the present and the past, both of which are best accessed through right reading at both literal and metaphoric levels. Significant, too, is the fact that he includes such a Latin proem at all. Its presence calls attention to the"Englishness" of the English poem in a way that English lines alone could never do, 23 and, at the same time, the Latin lines signify Gower's as a voice of authority, able to converse in the tongue of Antiquity and the Church even as he sets out to speak in the tongue of his homeland.

Already we can see in the opening proem how Gower's argument develops in careful, logical steps. In the 385 vernacular lines that follow, this steady process becomes even more methodological, progressing from general hypothesis to specificity through the use of particular exempla, patiently constructing a conclusion that is, or becomes, personal in application. Often the poet then tests each conclusion through suppositional logic in order to prove its general applicability. The poet's logic itself thereby informs the development of Gower's verse as he develops rational conclusions through the building of rational presentations. The poem's structure encodes its meaning, logic leading to logic.

But the lesson of logic is not the only theme that Gower embeds within the structure of this complex poem. In his Confessio Gower had written extensively on sin as"moder of divisioun" (Prol.1030), which itself was"moder of confusioun" (Prol.852); and there is little doubt that when he looked about England at the end of Richard's reign he saw nothing but the divisive confusion that he had so shrewdly anticipated. In that earlier work Gower had seemed to search among the poets for a new Arion to bring about peace and unity from harmful war and division (Prol.1053-77), but in this poem it is unmistakably God who, through Henry as agent-regent, addresses the division of the kingdom. Rather than becoming the new Arion, the poet is instead the peacemaker's witness and commentator, active in the process only insofar as he is able to help Henry (in this case) better understand and implement God's will - which is not to reduce the role of the poet but to make it all the more essential. And it is this theme of replacing division with unity that is also symbolized in the poem's structure. For if we are to assume authorial intention in the larger capitals that appear at the beginning of certain stanzas in the sole surviving manuscript copy of In Praise of Peace, the poem is divided into nine sections of varying length, to which a final stanza has been"appended" for a total of ten divisions24 - a sum that, like the totaling of Dante's cantos in the Commedia (1+33+33+33 = 100), results in a"whole" number that is symbolic of a unity after division, a perfection and all-inclusiveness, with echoes of both the ten spheres (foundations of cosmology) and the Ten Commandments (foundations of Law): if God is one, the monad which generates all numbers and thus forms the"number base of Creation," then the decade is the monad"extended to include all numbers." 25 Ten is, in other words, God in His work, a relationship with multiple resonances to Gower's In Praise of Peace: e.g., creator to creation, poet to poem, king to state. In this vision of political concord, the divisive multiplicity of society, so elaborately detailed in the Cronica Tripertita, is pushed again and again toward a complete and felicitous complicity.

The present division of England, in this structural encoding, is symbolized by the primary run of the poem, with its nine divisions, since nine, lacking the fullness of ten, is an incipient number that came to represent man in his mortal movement toward perfection. The number thereby became associated with prayer, where man turns, in his defection, toward the one God who perfects him, a yearning that strikes at the very core of Gower's moral ethic. 26 But Gower's numerology works at another level, too, as it is from this division that unity is derived: nine is a"circular" number"because it reproduces itself in multiplication," 27 and it is this kind of productivity that is most appropriate to the state at peace Gower hopes to attain. Between the nine and ten divisions of the poem we find, as a result, hints of both a structural circularity and a moral comprehension that embodies the argument of the whole of the poem as well as its various bits and pieces - and perhaps even the whole of the manuscript in which it is contained. The resulting process is epitomized in Chaucer's translation of Boethius' famed Consolation of Philosophy:
Whoso that seketh sooth by a deep thought, and coveyteth not to ben disseyvid by no mysweyes, lat hym rollen and trenden withynne hymself the lyght of his ynwarde sight; and let hym gaderyn ayein, enclynynge into a compas, the longe moevynges of his thoughtes; and let hym techyn his corage that he hath enclosid and hid in his tresors al that he compasseth or secheth fro withoute. 28
Thus Gower's is revealed as a poetic logic with a productive circularity, a movement from general to personal and back to general that underscores its natural human applicability.

If a man who can properly read his circumstances has a good chance at survival, the man who can properly figure - for which proper reading of numbers is prerequisite - stands the best chance of all. In Praise of Peace is an example of just this, an exercise in (and model for) good reading. It is a poem rich with symbolisms and relationships that are ultimately, like so much of Gower's work, about building a way of thinking coherently in the face of the thickening chaos of the world, a way of constructing something positive in a Creation where everything, even knowledge, is invariably tainted by the Fall and what Chaucer (again translating from Boethius) calls"the blake cloude of errour." 29 Gower combines this authorized reasoning - authorized by both his old books and his own place as creator and observer - with his epistemology of reading, and the result is a theory of knowledge rooted in the precision and empirical geometries of mathematics, which can root out unquestionable truths and extrapolate firm conclusions. 30 It is this epistemological conclusion, with its attendant call for rational behavior on the part of all men, that Gower builds into the form and substance of In Praise of Peace, thereby fashioning a mathematical proof in the guise of poetry. 31 His theorem: the best rule is that which leads to peace. 32

1 (lines 1-105) . In the first of the ten sections of this poetic proof, Gower presents his first step, in which he argues that humility is preferable to vanity. He begins by renewing in the vernacular the praise he gave to Henry in the Latin proem. But, just as in the Latin, Gower moves quickly to observations on God's action in lifting Henry to the glory he now enjoys (stanza 1). Still bearing in mind the divine power and right, Gower introduces Henry's claims to the throne before noting that the land is bound to serve the king and to preserve the harmony of creation (stanzas 2-3). Creation logically leads to another reminder of God's active hand in the world, after which Gower presents himself with full (and exemplifying) humility as an advisor to the king, complimenting Henry on being well read - perhaps thus alluding to the Confessio, which, as we have already begun to see, is a constantly present background to the ebb and flow of this poem's particulars (stanza 4). The topic of kings provides Gower with a fitting segue into two exempla of kingship: the first of Solomon, who ruled through reason; the second of Alexander, who ruled through the sword. Gower does not here directly refer to the fall of the former (about which I will say more), but he is swift to note the latter's doom, a failure that the poet attributes to a lack of Christ's presence in the king's life (stanzas 5-7). In contrast, Henry lives under Christ and thus must rule with"pité and grace" (line 52). Central to this corollary is Gower's claim that there is a"lawe of riht" that"schal noght be leid aside" (line 56). Unsaid, but very much implied, is the perception that Richard had set the law aside for his own purposes and thus brought disaster down on England. Gower thus points out that the exception to ruling with"pité and grace" is to make war in order to reclaim that very law. The case in point for Gower (and his audience) is Henry's use of arms to reestablish his rights as an English nobleman,"to cleime and axe his rightful heritage" (line 59). Gower extends this exception to discuss the nature of just war (stanza 10), while still maintaining his theoretical framework that peace should be sustained whenever possible (stanza 11). Gower then directly advises the king to"tak pes on honde" (line 83) in accordance with Christ's teachings (stanza 12). This address leads the poet into a magnificent stanza delineating the virtue of peace (stanza 13), after which he again advises the king to eschew war. This time, however, the appeal is not just to Christian teaching, but to Gower's"olde bokes" (line 96), the authority of antiquity (stanza 14). What was a Christian appeal thus becomes a humanist appeal as Gower concludes this initial section of the poem by turning his old books into history and an appeal to experience as he reminds the king that the famed conquerors of the past are all dead (stanza 15). War is nothing more than vanity, which, unlike humility, is no virtue at all. Indeed, it is associated with the growing specter of Pride, the first of vices and subject of Book 1 of the Confessio, whose entry into the poem was prepared in the humility tropes at the very opening of In Praise of Peace.

2 (lines 106-47) . Gower's lemma that war is nothing more than vanity moves him into the second section of the poem, a six-stanza delineation of the dangers of war, evidence to support his theory that peace is best. He calls war the mother of all wrongs (line 106), a proposition that he supports with evidence: war harms the Church, women, and the cities, and it overthrows the proper rules of Law, which ought to govern all (stanza 16). Indeed, he points out, war harms the whole of"the comon poeple" (line 114) such that even the victors do not truly get security (stanza 17). This remark set forth, Gower determines that the king, since his primary duty is to protect his people, is both physician and redeemer to the land by practicing peace (stanza 18). Gower then tests this second lemma through suppositional logic and historical example by noting that warmongering counselors, if they should arise, must not be listened to: God should be the king's foremost counsel (stanza 19). Here the poet once again recalls Richard without actually naming the deposed king, since Richard was widely regarded as a ruler who listened too often to wicked councillors and thus harmed his country. (This was one of Gower's foremost complaints, for example, in the Cronica Tripertita.) Since, as Gower reasserts, the king must always look to the protection of the homeland (stanza 20), he should therefore look to good counsel. And good counsel, Gower concludes, begins with"resonable" thinking,"wittes stable" (lines 144-45) that produce proper understandings such that the king might make his own decisions. Good counsel therefore functions both without and within, guided by wisdom inspired by the greater King, Christ who rules in Heaven (stanza 21).

3 (lines 148-68) . The third section of the poem builds up from the foundation that Gower established in the second: the subject of Christ turns the poet to discussion of Scripture and its fulfillment in the Word. Bloodshed is perilous, Gower says, so there is real honor only in peace (stanzas 22-23). He appeals this time not to old books but to"holi bokes" (line 163), and aptly calls the king's attention to the long-standing allegory of Christ as the head of the Church that is humanity. So, too, is the relationship between subjects and their secular sovereigns, a parallel that the king should take to both heart and head (stanza 24).

4 (lines 169-96) . One topic leads smoothly to another as Gower's proof advances, the proposition of Christian ethics in the third section recalling in the fourth the examples of first the Ten Commandments and then Christ's own words - all of which advise peace (stanzas 25-26). The corollary recollection of Mosaic Law spurs Gower to note that the Jews lived in peace with one another, though they fought many wars with the pagans who opposed them. The nations of Christendom, since Christianity is a more complete faith than Judaism, are therefore especially wrong in fighting internally (stanza 27). Gower then culminates the first four parts of his poem with the conclusion that the goal of the death of Christ, indeed the whole point of Advent, was"[t]o give ous pes" (line 190). Christendom's inability to unite peacefully thus denies Christ"His dewe reverence" (line 196).

5 (lines 197-252) . The poem's fifth section takes as its cue Gower's lemma that Christ died for peace: How well, then, Gower asks, has the Church followed His teachings? The poet begins with the observation that knighthood is meant to defend the Church and thus ought to be the duty of"everi man" under the direction of Christ as Prince of Peace (line 199). But reality falls far short of such an ideal. Most knights serve the state for themselves, not God, and the perilous state of Christendom during the Great Schism means that a king like Henry has a greater role than ever before: he must not only rule England, he must be mindful of the larger role of Christian knight-protector (stanza 29). Gower remarks on the unfortunate desire for fame and worldly desire among most of his contemporary knights, carefully leading to his observation that even the papacy stands amiss in misguidedly calling for wars against the pagan outside when chaos yet reigns within its own house (stanza 30). The actuality of the Church is thus juxtaposed with Christ's intention (stanza 31), an unfavorable comparison that recalls to Gower's mind once more the pressing fact of internal dissent in Christendom (stanza 32). Gower's apparently inevitable, if somewhat shocking and bold, conclusion is that guidance, at least for the moment, is not to be had in the pope. The Church is bigger than the papacy. Its true Head, the poet reminds us, is Christ. So it can be maintained by kings through the sustaining power of law which is"resonable" to"mannys wit" (line 237). Internal guidance thus once again becomes the keystone to proper rule (stanzas 33-34). Lest he be termed a Wycliffite, however (an accusation that would no doubt horrify him), Gower concludes with the optimistic hope that knights will return to the proper task of defending the Church, and that the Church and the states will thereby come together to follow the greater King of Heaven in a unity that will preserve them against outward threats such as the rising Saracens in the East (stanzas 35-36). The point is not that Henry (or any other Christian prince) should embark on crusade; rather, it is that a good king should assist in making and sustaining wise clerical appointments at home so that Christendom might dwell in peace.

6 (lines 253-94) . What stands in the way of proper Christian unity makes up the sixth section of In Praise of Peace, five stanzas in which Gower enumerates three points by which Christ's peace stands"oppressed" (line 253). The first of these points, just mentioned in the poem, is the internal divisions within the Church and Christendom (stanza 37). The second point is improper rule since, as Gower allegorizes, if the head is sick the limbs will ache (line 260). In other words, such error leads to war and avarice among Christian lands, conflicts that further disturb Christian peace. The third point is a direct result of the first two, Gower posits: outsiders, seeing the dissension and lack of proper rule within the borders of Christendom, are more likely to attack. And since the Church has failed to keep the Law that limits such improper behavior, hope for overcoming these three faults stands in good secular rule. In particular, for Gower, the hope falls upon the king and his embrace of peace (stanza 39). The poet again reminds the king of the limitations of mortal life which, whatever else one might say about it, is short: the king should think of the postmortem effects of his actions and how only commitment to Christ and His peace will garner lasting rewards (stanza 40). As evidence for this proposition, Gower turns to the most famous grouping of worldly powers in the Middle Ages, the Nine Worthies. Rather than listing their accomplishments, Gower here leaves them as bare names, symbols of vanity who are all, despite their great conquests and victories, dead. In light of mortality, he says, peace is best (stanzas 41-42).

7 (lines 295-329) . Gower uses each step of his proof as foundation for the next. This time, his lemma that peace is more a guarantor of salvation than conquest sets the stage for the seventh section of his poem, in which he argues for a deeds-based theology. He begins here with the examples of tennis and wool-spinning to show that a charitable ethic is not a random game of chance (stanza 43). Peace is, rather, a natural, divinely endorsed position that ought to be maintained through the free choice of men (stanza 44). These turns of theology - mixing natural law and free will - move Gower to conclude that"pes is, as it were, a sacrement" (line 309). Right worship of God is thereby revealed in submission to a peaceful ethic both in action and in inner belief (stanza 45). Given the disarray of the papacy, the king is thus made to occupy a priestly role for his people and the English Church, as well, standing before God and acting with honest good will ("Withouten eny double entendement," line 311) to conduct the state safely toward peace. 33 Gower argues, then, for a deeds-based theology, one founded largely on charity (stanza 46), and he finds scriptural basis for such a theology in Paul's conclusions that charity precludes war (stanza 47).

8 (lines 330-57) . Gower begins the eighth section of his poem by presenting a theoretical basis for his deeds-based theology, observing that such a view is given in the authorized writings of Cassiodorus, who says that pity provides grace and peace through the hand of mercy (stanza 48). Pity and mercy thus become the driving themes to the story of Constantine and Silvester, in which Constantine learns that he might prolong his own life by murdering young children. This he refuses to do. God returns this pity to the emperor by sending Pope Silvester who heals and baptizes him, making"him hol at al" (line 345). And with the conversion of Constantine came the conversion of Rome:"Thus schal pité be preised evermore" (line 357). In the Confessio Gower had presented this tale as an example of how"charité mai helpe a man / In bothe worldes" (2.3498-99). Here, it functions not only as a testament to the virtue of pity, but also as a final proof to Gower's long and careful logic in the poem: reason, supported by example, is the finest guide.

9 (lines 358-78) . The ninth section of the proof-poem circles back to the opening, 34as Gower returns to praise of Henry in a final, long, and direct appeal that he rule England with pity - since pity, the poet has already shown, leads to peace (stanzas 52-53). 35 The king, Gower argues, must turn inward to the"conscience" God has"planted" within him (line 368). He might thereby take his place among the saints in fulfilling Christ's will, earning eternal glory. Even more, the poet reminds the king of his earlier proposition that peace can gain a ruler"erthli pris" (line 372). Gower then affirms his own allegiance to Henry, placing himself in the role of the proper counselor who is the complement to a good king - which reminds us of Gower's comments on (and prayers for) the crown at the end of the Confessio, as well as the counselor/counseled relationship of the poet's own duality in Genius/Amans.

10 (lines 379-85) . But the poet is not finished. The tenth and final section of his proof, comprising a single, envoy-like stanza, shifts the audience of In Praise of Peace from Henry to all of Christendom. In these final lines Gower efficiently restates the whole of his proof in its general applicability to all rulers, his verse filled with active and imperative verbs: cease war, restore the papacy, be charitable, hold pity, and maintain law. Only then will peace come to reign over all.

In Praise of Peace is thus not simply a straightforward polemic against war. It is the result of a subtle craft, one that is wisely attuned to the fundamental problem of giving advice to kings who hold the very unsubtle power of capital punishment. Judith Ferster terms this dangerous business a"dance of deference and delicate challenge," 36 and Gower can indeed be at pains to perform rhetorical gymnastics as he advises peace to a king who achieved the crown by conquest. But Gower, for all the anxieties that must have attended in this tricky task of telling one's sovereign how to act, apparently could not abandon the role of councillor. If not quite utopian in his outlook, Gower seems ever to have been the wary optimist. 37

To be sure, Gower would have somewhat of a vested interest in being subtle in such work; as Strohm has pointed out,"most advice-giving to medieval kings" is inevitably full of"generous quantities of flattery, programmatic conciliation, wary evasion, and self-protective equivocation." 38 But there is something deeper than this in Gower's work, something less reticent, that comes across especially when his work is addressed to Henry. Whatever the specifics of their relationship, it seems to have been a close one insofar as it provided to Gower the confidence to speak safely, if not the whole of his mind, at least far more than most of his fellow countrymen would dare. 39When Gower alters his presentations of Solomon and Alexander from those found in the Confessio to those found in In Praise of Peace, doing so in order to provide the exemplum of a wise king who does not fall and a belligerent conqueror who does, Grady argues that"Gower cannot paint Henry as a new Alexander in a poem advising the king to establish a rule of peace, but neither can he accurately characterize him as a modern Solomon, because of Henry's route to power (which, if it is not to be ignored, must be legitimized)." 40 While issues of legitimization cannot be denied in a poem which directly confronts them, 41 Gower is surely not hoping for any ignorance on Henry's part concerning these stories. He is not fumbling with his sources in an attempt to make such a rhetorical and political parry. Quite to the contrary, Gower is relying on Henry to fill in the relevant blanks for himself. He fully anticipates and expects Henry to be aware of the ill end suffered by Solomon, for example. Henry's present moment is perhaps his zenith, and it is given appropriate parallel in the zenith of Solomon's good fortunes. The ironic juxtaposition, given Gower's glossing over of Solomon's ultimate fate, heightens the unspoken but ever-present threat to Henry's own future. Henry needs only to learn to read it for himself. This would, after all, be the mark of the good student addressed in the Confessio.

For all his subtlety, then, Gower is never unclear. He does not equivocate. His positions on the underlying problems that he perceives to be plaguing his society do not change over the course of his career, even as the surface conditions of those problems do. Henry might replace Richard as king, but he faces the same difficulties of kingship. The men beneath the crown are interchangeable, but the crown itself remains as a symbol for something greater than the men who wear it: they do so on what is clearly borrowed time. 42 By the same token, Gower attacks the Church and the papacy for their lack of unity even while pledging his unflagging support for the estate of the Church and the position of the pope as ideals. 43 Indeed, Gower makes the point of borrowed time explicit in the latter half of the poem (lines 281-87), when he calls Henry's attention to the Nine Worthies, military victors all, who here serve not as inspiring models of conquest, but as figures of vainglory who share one characteristic above all else: they have all gone to meet their maker.

The Trentham Manuscript

The text provided here is from the sole surviving copy, that of London, British Library MS Additional 59495, known to Macaulay and earlier editors as the Trentham Manuscipt. This manuscript, composed entirely of Gower's work, is interesting in its own right, and it is worth commenting briefly on its history. 44 According to various notations in the manuscript, it passed from one Charles Gedde to Thomas Fairfax on 28 June 1656. 45 Then, later that same year, Fairfax gave the book to Thomas Gower. 46Before relinquishing the volume to Thomas Gower, however, Fairfax summarized its contents on the first folio:"Sir John Gower's learned poems: the same booke by himself presented to Kinge Henry the Fourth before his coronation." Fairfax's claim that Trentham is a presentation copy that was given to Henry by Gower himself is difficult to sustain: if nothing else, we would expect a copy of such royal aspirations to be more remarkable in its design and execution. Yet the manuscript's connection to Henry is strong enough to suggest that perhaps Trentham is the master from which such a presentation volume was copied. That is, Gower directed the composition of Trentham, then caused a more elaborate copy to be made and given to the king. The original then passed somehow from Gower's hands to those of Gedde, perhaps making its way through the library of the earl of Richmond, later Henry VII, at some point during its journey. 47

The claims of royal connection certainly move us toward consideration of the manuscript's audience, itself a topic related to its contents. A manuscript of only forty-one leaves, Trentham's contents can be divided into roughly seven works:
  1. Fols. 5r-10v: The English poem In Praise of Peace (the unique copy).
  2. Fols. 10v-11r: The Latin poem Rex celi deus.
  3. Fols. 11v-12v: Two French balades that bookend a Latin poem combining O recolende and H. aquile pullus. Macaulay (1.335-37) refers to this sequence as the"Dedication" to the Cinkante Balades and prints it as such (a unique combination).
  4. Fols. 12v-33r: The French sequence Cinkante Balades (the unique copy).
  5. Fol. 33v: The Latin poem Ecce patet tensus, which ends imperfectly due to a missing folio (the unique copy).
  6. Fols. 34r-39r: The French sequence Traitié pour ensampler les amantz marietz, which begins imperfectly due to a missing folio.
  7. Fol. 39v: The Latin poem Quicquid homo scribat (in a unique version), which appears to have been a later addition to the manuscript.
One of the first things that is striking about this list of contents is the trilingual quality of the Trentham Manuscript. Nowhere, I think, is Gower's fluid and effective movement between English, Latin, and French more clearly and briefly seen than in this unique manuscript. 48The second point of particular interest is Henry's explicit or implicit presence in the material collected within its leaves. In Praise of Peace is directly addressed to Henry, of course, and Rex celi deus follows its English precedent in celebrating Henry's arrival and asking the king to follow the example of Christ in ruling his new-won kingdom. The first balade of the mixed French and Latin Dedication to the Cinkante Balades, too, follows the pattern of lauding Henry, beginning with the claim that Henry is a king due to divine intervention, then focusing on both Henry's wondrous characteristics ("pity, prowess, humility, royal honor," he writes in line 1) and on Gower's place as"humble vassal" (line 15) and subject. The Latin poem that follows the first balade comprises the first eight lines of O recolende,49 attached to the four-line poem H. aquile pullus - both of which likewise follow the themes laid out in the initial English poem, taking as their subject both the praising of the king and the counsel that he should engage in a moral, peaceful rule. At the end of this conflated Latin poem there are two quotations from the Vulgate that function as blessings on the new-crowned king: Vulgate Psalms 88:23 ("The enemy shall have no advantage over him: nor the son of iniquity have power to hurt him") and 40:2 ("The Lord preserve him and give him life, and make him blessed upon the earth: and deliver him not up to the will of his enemies"). The second French balade of the Dedication is imperfect (fol. 12 being considerably damaged), but what we can read indicates that the balades which follow the Dedication were composed for presentation at Henry's court. 50And while the Cinkante Balades, a collected sequence not unlike Petrarch's sonnets, do not make explicit reference to the people of the royal court, it is not difficult to see the sequence as just what it claims to be: royal entertainment rather than personal autobiography. The envoy of the Cinkante Balades would also appear to confirm such a scenario, addressing the work to both England and its noble king, Henry. Following this long French sequence, the short Latin poem Ecce patet tensus continues the themes of Love's power that were so subtly expressed in the preceding balades, while also providing a segue into the French Traitié, another series of balades, this time eighteen in number, with corresponding Latin marginalia that appear, like those of the Confessio Amantis, to be both authorial and integral to the poem. The subject of these balades is, like those of the Cinkante Balades, love, but it is of a more mature form than the youthful love of the earlier, longer sequence: Gower proposes to advise married lovers on the maintenance of their vows. The manuscript ends with the short Latin poem Quicquid homo scribat, in which Gower claims that he lost his sight in the first year of Henry's reign and then, in its final lines, makes one final request of the world (line 12):"That God make our kingdoms prosperous in the future. Amen." This request, which reminds us at once of Gower's final prayer for England at the end of the Confessio, brings the poet and the manuscript full circle: what began in hope, with praise of Henry and humble requests for a rule of peace to bring England out from the ashes of Richard's reign and restore it to proper rule, has passed through times of sheer joy only to end with a return to prayer on behalf of his nation. Seen in such light, one might view Gower as considering Henry's coronation a marker of his own return from exile, in which the voice in the wilderness is finally brought into the fold of the royal court to entertain his prince. If so, then the Trentham Manuscript reveals not only the initial optimism of this progression but also the scarcely veiled pessimism of its ultimate result: a return to a kind of exile as Gower retires to St. Mary Overeys claiming blindness and infirmity, turning over his pen to poets whose youth would allow them the kind of idealistic optimism that time and experience had taken from him. Indeed, his subsequent poems, from Presul ouile regis to Orate pro anima, make clear that Henry's coming had not cleansed his country of its ills. The death of Richard was not that of the phoenix. The poet's hopes had not been fulfilled. Gower could still see the metaphorical blemishes of plague spotting the land, and his poetry thereby turns, slowly and inexorably, to the final theme of death.

Note on the Text

The poem's divisions, marked by larger, two-line initials, are here shown by indentation and boldface initials. An early printed text was produced in Thynne's edition of Chaucer's Works (though not attributed to Chaucer), and Thynne's readings are given where this present text diverges significantly from Macaulay's. For a full apparatus comparing the text with that of Thynne, see Macaulay's edition (3.481-92).

Go To In Praise of Peace