September 13th, 2021

Hic Iacet J. Gower Armiger

Southwark Cathedral again:

This is the tomb of John Gower- who, along with Chaucer, Langland and a few Anons- belonged to the first generation of poets to write in English.

Gower himself is not at home. His tomb has been shunted around the cathedral many times in the course of its numerous rebuildings and his bones got themselves lost along the way.

I haven't read him. C.S Lewis did- and liked him. Others have found him tedious. Chaucer lumbered him with the epiphet "moral" which is not exactly a recommendation to the modern reader. His reputation rests not so much on what he produced himself as on his having laid the foundations of what came after. Eng Lit begins here. He is probably best known today for having furnished Shakespeare and Wilkins with the plot of their play Pericles, Prince of Tyre and for appearing in it as narrator.

The basic structure of the tomb is original, but the paintwork is a vivid and imaginative reconstruction of what was once there, based on a detailed contemporary description. The reconstruction was carried out in 1958- and I'd like to know the artist's name so I could tender my congratulations. The ladies on the boards behind the effigy may be rather too pre-Raphaelite to be convincing as 15th century work but they're elegant and spirited and I can't see Gower disapproving.

This is what a late medieval tomb should look like- not all grey and stony but as colourful as a fairground ride.