While much has been said about the ethical principles of Gower's poetry, less has been said about his understanding of the body, its principal organs, and its relation to the medical discourse of the time. This short paper, presented initially as part of the "Hope and Healing Symposium" sponsored by The Gower Project, approaches the poet's work from a more medically inflected point of view, one that suggests a stronger kinship between the material body and its use as a metaphor for the body politic. Gower appears to be situated within a continuing debate launched by Aristotle and taken up by Galen about whether the heart or the brain governed the body and housed the soul. The heart-brain relation signified in the oft-repeated phrase "herte's thoght" in the Confessio suggests the poet's recognition of the symbiotic kinship between thinking and feeling, an interconnectedness incapsulated in an illustration in Geraldus de Hardywyck's Epitomata seu Reparationes totius philosophiae naturalis Aristotelis. Also relevant to a more medically inflected reading of the poet's major works is his understanding of Anger as heart disease in the Mirour de l'Omme and the dis-ease of community exemplified by the Rising of 1381 in the Vox Clamantis. All three works demonstrate the need for hope and healing, both individual and communal, in a troubled late medieval England.


Thanks go to Georgiana Donavin for organizing the symposium and for her perceptive comments on an early draft of this paper and to the outside reader who provided additional insight.