The French works: the ballades

Authored by: Peter Nicholson

The Routledge Research Companion to John Gower

Print publication date:  April  2017
Online publication date:  March  2017

Print ISBN: 9781472435804
eBook ISBN: 9781315613109
Adobe ISBN: 9781317043034


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Gower left two very different collections of ballades in French, the Cinkante Balades and the Traitié pour essampler les amantz marietz. 1 The first consists of fifty-two separate poems, 2 in all but the last four of which a man or a woman addresses his or her real or prospective partner on the state of their love. Each poem is numbered separately; each is marked off by a concluding envoy; and Gower mixes together ballades with seven-line and eight-line stanzas. The Traitié, on the other hand, is addressed by the poet to his readers, and it offers, by way of precept and example, a single argument on the virtue of fidelity in marriage. It uses a seven-line stanza throughout, without an envoy, and though each group of three stanzas constitutes a ballade in the use of the same rhyme scheme and the repetition of the refrain, they are clearly meant to be read in order as a single poem. As a collection of ballades, neither has a precise model, and the differences between them are themselves evidence of Gower’s experimentation with the form. Each has attracted less comment, however, than any of Gower’s other works except perhaps the Mirour de l’Omme, also in French; and until recently most existing commentary has been concerned with such basic questions as their respective dates. Since in each case the dating is far from certain, I take them up in the order in which they occur in the manuscript in which they appear together, which is also the order in which they are presented by G.C. Macaulay in his standard edition of Gower’s works. 3

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