Contribution of John Gower:In an illustration from a manuscript of Vox Clamantis showing Gower shooting the world, it was written: "I throw my darts and shoot my arrows at the world. But where there is a righteous man, no arrow strikes". John Gower is a moralist and a serious critic of corruption in contemporary society and church and above all in human life. His arrows strike everybody who deviates from the righteous way of life and chooses a way of vice. His works always contain some serious moral for the readers whom he wants to teach, not to entertain. He was a friend of Geoffrey Chaucer who addressed him as ‘moral Gower’ at the close of Troilus and Criseyde. He is remembered primarily for three major works - Speculam Meditantis, Vox Clamantis, and Confessio Amantis, three long poems written in French, Latin, and English respectively and united by common moral and political themes.
Speculam Meditantis written in twelve-line stanzas of octosyllabic verse, with two sets of rhymes in each stanza arranged aab aab bba bba. It deals with vices and virtues and of the different grades of society, and endeavours to print out the path by which a sinner may return to God and obtain pardon through the aid of Jesus Christ and of Virgin Mary. It concludes with a life of “Our Lady”, into which is also naturally introduced an account of the principal events in the life of Christ.
The Vox Clamantis contains 10,265 lines of elegiac verse. It deals with the rising of the peasants in 1381; the need of pure religious faith; the vices of the clergy of every degree, of the merchants, of the lawyers, and of the common people; and the duties of a king. The poem is an important account of life under Richard II in London and the effects of the peasants' rebellion. Using the rebellion (which clinched several demands for the peasants) as an allegory, Gower expresses his concern for a future vacant of law and education. But Gower takes an entirely aristocratic side in the poem, regarding the peasants' claims as invalid and their actions as following the anti-Christ.
Gower's English works are the Confessio Amantis and a poem addressed to King Henry IV, which from its subject has been called "In Praise of Peace". Confessio Amantis is a poem of 33,000-line written throughout in octosyllabic rhyming couplets. It uses the confession made by an ageing lover to the chaplain of Venus as a frame story for a collection of shorter narrative poems. In genre it is usually considered a poem of consolation, a medieval form inspired by Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy and typified by works such as Pearl. Despite this, it is more usually studied alongside other tale collections with similar structures, such as the Decameron of Boccaccio, and particularly Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, with which Confessio Amantis has several stories in common. It is divided in eight books and each book of the poem is devoted to one sin, and the first six books follow the traditional order for the first six sins: pride, envy, wrath, sloth, avarice, and gluttony. C.S. Lewis identifies a "sweetness and freshness" in its verse and praises its "memorable precision and weight”.
As the canons of criticism developed, it was inevitable that the minor poet would suffer from contrast with his great contemporary. Hence Gower has been generally relegated to an undeservedly inferior rank as compared to Chaucer. In spite of his monotonous moralizing tone, he is a good story-teller. His art of telling a story in a natural way, as shown for example in the Confession Amantis, is by no means slender, and in some respects will stand comparison with Chaucer's admittedly great gifts as a narrator.