Vox Clamantis

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An illustration from a manuscript of Vox Clamantis, showing Gower shooting the world: "I throw my darts and shoot my arrows at the world. But where there is a righteous man, no arrow strikes"

Vox Clamantis ("the voice of one crying out") is a Latin poem of around 10,000 lines in elegiac verse by John Gower that recounts the events and tragedy of the 1381 Peasants' Rising. The poem takes aim at the corruption of society and laments the rise of evil. 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 earlier Mirour de l'Omme had proposed the metaphor of the microcosm: man is, within himself, a miniature world and a metaphor of the world. As disorders occur in the man, they occur in the wider world. In Vox Clamantis, the same general trope is employed, but Gower emphasizes the role of the political, with a dire view of the effects of the polis and political on both the man and the cosmos. Gower outlines the proper duty of each of the three estates of society and argues that none of those alive were close to acting in a proper manner.

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. Gower, who frequently stressed the importance of each concept in his work, feared that either would be meaningless in a land rife with barbarism and chaos, and men of his position would have no purpose.

Gower's Latin poetry is well executed by medieval standards, with both vocabulary and prosody handled with competence. A very large number both of couplets and longer passages are borrowed from other writers, often from Ovid or a medieval writer, such as Alexander Neckam, Peter de Riga, Godfrey of Viterbo, or the author of Speculum Stultorum.

Like the poem, Dartmouth College's motto, Vox Clamantis in Deserto, alludes to the Vulgate translation of the Gospel of Mark 1:1-3 and of the Gospel of John 1:22-23 (where the voice is that of John the Baptist), quoting the Book of Isaiah 40:3.

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