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O Deus Immense


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.


O deus immense: Usually ascribed to 1399, on the strength of the prose headings in S, C, H, and G (see Prose 1-2 note below) and the subject matter. However, while the headings themselves are clearly post-deposition (and in S, a manuscript given to Archbishop Arundel ca. 1402, apparently by Gower), dating is nonetheless difficult. Coffman ("John Gower, Mentor") argues the resemblance of Gower's advice to the thirty-three gravamina, or charges, leveled against Richard at the deposition "parliament" in September 1399 (see note to line 8, below). Yet similarity does not constitute evidence: Gower's advice is applicable to all kings, Henry IV included. The poem may have been composed, or at least begun, somewhat earlier, months before Henry's coup d'état, or even in 1398. Given Gower's habits of revision, particularly of work with political content, this uncertainty must always be allowed. (See notes to lines 99 and 103-04, below.) Indeed, Stockton (Major Latin Works, p. 36) may have it right, noting that when writing O deus immense Gower had "not yet given up hope for Richard." The prose headings of C, H, and G suggest as much also. The structure is predominantly Leonine hexameter with disyllabic rhyme and the occasional couplet, some of the latter infrequently with collateral rhyme (e.g., lines 5-6) as well; lines 95-104 are single-rhyme elegiac distich couplets. Line 104 is also pentameter.

The text here is based on S, read against C and H.

Prose 1-2 Two versions of the prose heading exist. S: Carmen quod Iohannes Gower adhuc vivens super principum regimine ultimo composuit ("A poem that John Gower, yet living, recently composed concerning the guidance of rulers"). C, H, G: Carmen quod Iohannes Gower tempore regis Ricardi dum vixit ultimo composuit ("A poem that John Gower recently composed in the time of King Richard, while he lived"). Macaulay, taking the S heading to be in Gower's hand, reads dum vixit and adhuc vivens as equivalents, to mean Gower wrote "with a view to future generations" (compare Quia unusquisque, line 4). Yet it is curious for a living poet to call attention to his own vitality. The fact that the positioning of dum vixit in C, H, and G clearly is applicable to Richard may provide clues to the meaning of S's adhuc vivens, the handwriting of the heading in S (not Gower's), and the date Gower began work on O deus immense.

2 morosi. Macaulay: "opposed here to 'viciosi,'" citing VC Epistle line 57, trans. Stockton as "worthy." Here, however (and in line 57, below), it keeps its antique sense, complementary to viciosi.

5 Quicquid delirant . . . Achivi. Literally, Achivi = "Greeks" but the line, originally from Horace, Epistles I.ii.14, was proverbial in the fourteenth century, where Achivi was equated with the "comun people": compare CA VII.3930, beside which "Quicquid . . . Achivi" appears as a gloss. Compare also MO, lines 22825-48, and VC VI.vii.497 where, as Fisher has noted (John Gower, p. 131), the proverb has a different meaning. Gower's direct knowledge of Horace is doubtful; rather, all of his few Horatian references (sometimes mistaken) indicate his reliance on a compendium.

7-8 A later hand has written nota ["note"] in the margin beside these lines in S.

7 Laus et honor . . . legum. Compare MO, lines 22234-36, 22240, and 22246-48.

8 Ad quas iurati . . . vocati. Presumably the coronation oath (compare MO, lines 22285-91) by which great contemporary store was set: in 1388 at the reconciliatory mass in Westminster Abbey, Richard repeated his oath and the Appellants theirs of homage. Charges that Richard violated his oath figured prominently in the gravamina presented against him in 1399, on which see Green, Crisis of Truth, pp. 234-35. Compare also Hoccleve's Regiment of Princes, lines 2192-98, advising the future Henry V.

10 pax contulit oscula guerris. Compare Vulgate Psalm 84:11: "Misericordia et veritas obviaverunt sibi; Iustitia et pax osculatae sunt" ("Mercy and truth have met each other: justice and peace have kissed"). Compare MO, lines 23082-88.

15-16 Qui regit . . . recedit. Compare MO, lines 22869-72.

19 "Ve qui predaris." Compare Isaias 33:1: "Vae qui praedaris! Nonne et ipse praedaberis? Et qui spernis, nonne et ipse sperneris? Cum consummaveris depraedationem, depraedaberis; Cum fatigatus desieris contemnere, contemneris" ("Woe to thee that spoilest! Shalt not thou thyself also be spoiled? And thou that despisest, shalt thou not thyself also be despised? When thou shalt have made an end of spoiling, thou shalt be spoiled: when being wearied thou shalt cease to despise, thou shalt be despised").

21-22 Rex qui plus aurum . . . repente. Compare MO, lines 22981-92.

28 commune. So Mac, emending from C and H. S: comune.

31-32 pestis . . . crimine multo. Compare CVP, line 11, above.

41 vespere. Vespers, or evensong, is the sixth canonical hour of the breviary. Gower warns against the king taking advice too quickly, which later may prove faulty.

49 Cum laqueatur . . . altera. Compare Traitié XV.7.

54 Plebis et audire . . . redire. Compare "vox populi, vox dei": VC III.Pro.11-13, III.xv.1267, VII.xxv.1470.

61 Nomen regale . . . tibi. Compare Marsilius of Padua (ca. 1324), Defensor Pacis I.18.3 for the same argument that royal authority proceeds from the people.

62 A later hand has written nota ("note") in the margin beside this line in S.

63-64 Rex qui tutus . . . habebis. Compare Job 36:10: "Revelabit quoque aurem eorum, ut corripiat; Et loquetur, ut revertantur ab iniquitate" ("He also shall open their ear to correct them: and shall speak, that they may return from iniquity").

68 Saltem fortuna . . . una. Compare Boethius, De cons. Fortune and her wheel are nearly ubiquitous in medieval literature and visual art: see Patch, Goddess Fortuna, and Kolve, Chaucer and the Imagery of Narrative, pp. 32, 327-28.

75-76 Regia precedant . . . superno. Compare Job 36:11-12. (See biblical text below.)

77 Absque. S: corrected from Abque.

Absque Deo . . . cotidiana. Compare MO, lines 23089-100.

79-80 Rex sibi qui . . . carebit. Compare Job 36:11-12: "Si audierint et observaverint, complebunt dies suos in bono, Et annos suos in Gloria: Si autem non audierint, Transibunt per gladium" ("If they [i.e., kings] shall hear, they shall accomplish their days in good, and their years in glory. But if they hear not, they shall pass by the sword").

83-85 A later hand has written nota ["note"] in the margin beside these lines in S.

85 Quo caput . . . firmum. Proverbial in the fourteenth century (compare Whiting, H254). Initially from Paul: compare Colossians 1:1, 1 Corinthians 12:12-28, and see further John of Salisbury, Policraticus V.3. Also compare CA 5.1038-40; IPP, line 260. On Gower's use of the figure generally, see Yeager, "Body Politic."

99 pronus pro tempore . . . thronus. Richard's throne might be said to have "declined" twice, in 1388 and 1399. It is difficult to imagine, if this is in fact a topical allusion, that the line was written in the earlier year; but sometime before Richard's assertion of power in 1397 is possible, however unlikely. On the other hand, it is equally difficult to imagine that the poem was composed entirely between August and September 1399, so the line probably should be seen as a late addition. See note to lines 103-04, below.

101 Rex igitur . . . vadat. Compare Vulgate Psalm 19:8: "Hi in curribus, et hi in equis: Nos autem in nomine Domini Dei nostri invocabimus" ("Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will call upon the name of the Lord our God").

102 ne rota versa cadat. A neat conjunction of wheels: chariots' and Fortune's.

103-4 Celorum regi . . . tegi. That Richard ruled capriciously, without regard to statute, was a charge both in 1388 and 1399.
4. O deus immense

Carmen quod Iohannes Gower, adhuc vivens, super principum regimine ultimo composuit.
4. O Boundless God

A poem that John Gower, still alive, composed concerning the most recent rule of princes.
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O Deus immense, sub quo dominantur in ense
Quidam morosi Reges, quidam viciosi,
Disparibus meritis -- sic pax, sic mocio litis
Publica regnorum manifestant gesta suorum:
Quicquid delirant Reges, plectuntur Achivi;
Quo mala respirant, ubi mores sunt fugitivi.
Laus et honor Regum foret observacio legum,
Ad quas iurati sunt prima sorte vocati.
Ut celeste bonum puto concilium fore donum,
Quo prius in terris pax contulit oscula guerris.
Consilium dignum Regem facit esse benignum,
Est aliter signum quo spergitur omne malignum.
In bonitate pares sumat sibi consiliares
Rex bonus, et cuncta venient sibi prospera iuncta.
Qui regit optentum de consilio sapientum
Regnum non ledit set ab omni labe recedit;
Consilium tortum scelus omne refundit abortum
Regis in errorem, regni quo perdit amorem.
"Ve qui predaris," Ysaias clamat avaris;
Sic verbis claris loquitur tibi qui dominaris.
Rex qui plus aurum populi quam corda thesaurum
Computat a mente populi cadit ipse repente.
Os ubi vulgare non audet verba sonare,
Stat magis obscura sub murmure mens loqutura.
Que stupet in villa cicius plebs murmurat illa,
Unde malum crescit, sapiens quo sepe pavescit.
Est tibi credendum murmur satis esse timendum;
Cum sit commune, tunc te super omnia mune.
Lingua nequit fari mala, cor nec premeditari;
Que parat obliqus sub fraude dolosus amicus.
Mundus erit testis, vir talis ut altera pestis
Inficit occulto regnum de crimine multo.
Blandus adulator et avarus consiliator,
Quamuis non velles, plures facit esse rebelles.
Sepius ex herbis morbus curatur acerbis.
Sepe loquela gravis iuvat et nocet illa suavis.
Qui falsum pingunt sub fraudeque vera refingunt,
Hii sunt qui blando sermone nocent aliquando.
Rex qui conducit tales sibi scandala ducit,
Nomen et abducit quod nobile raro reducit.
Quod viguit mane sibi vespere transit inane,
Dummodo creduntur que verba dolosa loquntur.
Consilio tali regnum magis in speciali
Undique turbatur, quo regis honor variatur;
Nunc ita, sicut heri, poterit res ista videri,
Unde magis plangit populus, quem lesio tangit.
Set premunitus non fallitur inde peritus.
Quod videt ante manum, fugit omne notabile vanum.
Cum laqueatur avis, cavet altera, sicque suavis
Rex pius in cura semper timet ipse futura.
Rex insensatus nullos putat esse reatus,
Quam prius ante fores casus sibi sint graviores.
Set qui prescire vult causas, expedit ire,
Plebis et audire voces per easque redire.
Si sit in errore regis, vel in eius honore,
Hoc de clamore populi prefertur ab ore.
Est qui morosus rex non erit ambiciosus,
Set sub eo tutum regni manet omne statutum.
Nomine preclarus nunquam fuit ullus avarus;
Larga manus nomen cum laude meretur et omen.
Nomen regale populi vox dat tibi; quale
Sit, bene sive male, Deus illud habet speciale.
Rex qui tutus eris, si temet noscere queris,
Ad vocem plebis aures sapienter habebis.
Culpe vel laudis ex plebe creatur, ut audis,
Fama ferens verba que dulcia sunt et acerba.
Fama cito crescit, subito tamen illa vanescit,
Saltem fortuna stabilis quia non manet una;
Principio scire fortunam seu stabilire,
Non est humanum super hoc quid ponere planum;
Fine set expertum valet omnis dicere certum,
Qualia sunt facta, quia tunc probat exitus acta.
Rex qui laudari cupit et de fine beari,
Sint sua facta bona, recoletur ut inde corona.
Regia precedant benefacta que crimina cedant,
Vivat ut eterno sic rex cum Rege superno.
Absque Deo vana cum sit tibi cotidiana
Pompa; recorderis, sine laude Dei morieris.
Rex sibi qui mundum prefert Cristumque secundum
Linquit, adherebit ubi finis laude carebit.
Regis enim vita cum sit sine laude sopita,
Nomen erat quale, dabit ultima cronica tale.
Et sic concludo breviter de carmine nudo.
Ordine quo regnant Reges, sua nomina pregnant.
Quo caput infirmum, nichil est de corpore firmum,
Plebs neque firmatur, ubi virtus non dominatur.
Rex qui securam laudis vult carpere curam,
Cristum preponat, Reges qui laude coronat.
Nam qui presumit de se, cum plus sibi sumit,
Fine carens laude stat, fama retrograda caude.
Omni viventi scola pertinet ista regenti,
Displicet hic genti qui non placet omnipotenti;
Gracia succedit, meritis ubi culpa recedit:
Qui sic non credit, sua rex regalia ledit.
Non ex fatali casu set iudiciali
   Pondere regali stat medicina mali.
Plebs ut ovile gregis, mors vitaque, regula legis,
   Sub manibus regis sunt ea quanta legis.
Tanta licet pronus pro tempore det tibi thronus;
   Sit nisi fine bonus, non honor est set onus.
Rex igitur videat cum curru quomodo vadat,
   Et sibi provideat, ne rota versa cadat.
Celorum regi pateant que scripta peregi,
   Namque sue legi res nequit ulla tegi.
O boundless God, under whom rule with the sword
Some moral kings, some vicious kings,
With diverse merits -- thus peace, thus the agitation of strife
Make plain the public deeds of their kingdoms:
For whatever folly the kings commit, the people are punished;
Where evils prosper, where morals are put to flight.
Observing the laws ought to be glory and distinction to kings,
To which they are sworn from the first by their allotted calling.
I consider good counsel to be a heavenly gift,
By which in earlier times the kiss of peace concluded the world's wars.
Worthy counsel makes a king bounteous,
In contrast to when every kind of spitefulness is spread about.
Let the good king choose counselors of similar goodness
And all things will come together for him in prosperity.
He who rules a kingdom that has obtained wise men's counsel
Will not damage the kingdom but will keep clear of all scandal;
Distorted counsel spreads crime of every kind in the abortive errors
Of the king, by which he loses the love of the kingdom.
"You who plunder," Isaias cries out to the avaricious;
Thus in clear words he speaks to you who reign.
A king who reckons gold greater than the hearts of his people
Immediately falls from the people's mind.
When the people's voice does not dare to speak out loud,
They speak their mind more darkly in murmurs.
Whatever is silenced in court, the commons murmur it sooner,
Whence evil increases and the wise as often pale with fear.
Believe it, a rumor suffices to raise fear
Once it becomes common, guard yourself against all things.
Tongues cannot speak nor heart premeditate the evil things
That a crooked devious friend deceitfully sets forth.
Let the world bear witness, such a man like another plague
Infects a kingdom with many a secret crime.
The fawning sycophant and the avaricious counselor,
However much you wish it otherwise, will cause many to rebel.
Often a disease is cured by bitter herbs.
Often grave speech helps and soft speech harms.
Those who paint the false with fraud give truth a new look;
They are the ones who with fawning speech at times do harm.
The king who consorts with such men brings scandal upon himself,
And degrades his name, which rarely recovers its nobility.
What flourishes in the morning turns worthless by evening
As long as they are believable who speak deceitful words.
By such counsel the kingdom more especially
Is disturbed on all sides, and by it the king's honor is at risk.
Thus presently, just as yesterday, this can be seen:
The people complain the more, whom the wound touches.
One who is prepared and expert is not deceived;
He flees whatever obvious vanity he sees before his hand.
When one bird is snared, another is wary; just so the kind
But dutiful king takes care always to be wary of the future.
The insensible king considers nothing to be guilt-worthy
Until matters worsen at the gates.
But whosoever wishes to know the causes, make ready to go out
And to return by listening to the voice of the people.
If one is with the king in error or honor,
It is made known by the cry of the people's mouth.
The king who is moral will not be ambitious,
But under him every statute of the kingdom remains safe.
The avaricious are never called admirable;
The generous hand deserves a name with praise and good fortune.
The voice of the people gives you the royal title; of what kind
It may be, good or evil, God takes note.
O king who will be secure, if you seek to know yourself,
You will wisely have ears for the voice of the people.
Rumor of blame or praise comes from the people, as you will hear,
Bearing words that are sweet and bitter.
Rumor quickly springs up and also suddenly vanishes,
Fortune is stable at least in not remaining the same.
To have foreknowledge, making Fortune stable
Is not human, to posit anything plainly beyond this,
But once the end is reached, everyone can speak with certainty,
The sorts of things that are done, because then the outcome proves the deeds.
The king who wishes to be praised and in the end to be blessed
Lets his deeds be good, so that his crown may be venerated.
Let kingly good deeds be outstanding and crimes be absent,
So that the king may dwell eternally with the King of Heaven.
Since your daily splendor would be vain without God,
Remember: you will die without God's approval.
The king who puts the world first and leaves Christ second
Will cling to it and at the end will feel the want of blessing.
For when a king's life ends without praise,
His name is such as to yield this kind of history.
And thus briefly I conclude this meager poem.
The kings who reign in good order, their names are fruitful.
When the head is infirm, nothing is firm about the body,
And the people are infirm when virtue does not rule.
The king who wants to follow a sure regimen of praise,
Let him put Christ in first place, who crowns kings with praise.
For he who presumes about himself, takes more to himself,
Ends without praise, his fame turned on its tail.
That school relates to all living rulers;
He who does not please the Almighty displeases his people.
Grace follows upon merits where blame recedes;
The king who does not believe this harms his kingly state
The remedy for evil consists not of fateful decree
   But of judicial decree with royal gravity.
The common people like sheep in a fold, death and life, the rule of law,
   In the hands of the king they are as great as you read.
May the throne bestow such great things upon you despite its temporary decline;
   Unless it is good in the end, it is no honor but a burden.
Therefore let the king see how he travels in his chariot,
   And take care lest he lose a wheel and suffer a fall.
May what I have written be open to the King of Heaven,
   For there is nothing that can be hidden from His law.

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