John Gower on Astronomy

Confessio Amantis, Bk VII, lines 625-1506)

Use the glossary in the Riverside Chaucer for words not glossed in the margins; see a note on Gower's spellings






































































































































The science of Astronomie
I thinke forto specefie,
Withoute which, to telle plein,
Alle othre science is in vein
Toward the scole of erthli thinges:
For as an Egle with his winges
Fleth above alle that men finde,
So doth this science in his kinde.

Benethe upon this Erthe hiere
Of alle thinges the matiere,
As tellen ous thei that ben lerned,
Of thing above it stant governed,
That is to sein of the Planetes.
The cheles bothe and ek the hetes
The chances of the world also,
That we fortune clepen so,
Among the mennes nacion
Al is thurgh constellacion,

Wherof that som man hath the wele,
And som man hath deseses fele
In love als wel as othre thinges;
The stat of realmes and of kinges
In time of pes, in time of werre
It is conceived of the Sterre:
And thus seith the naturien
Which is an Astronomien.

Bot the divin seith otherwise,
That if men weren goode and wise
And plesant unto the godhede,
Thei scholden noght the sterres drede;
For o man, if him wel befalle,
Is more worth than ben thei alle
Towardes him that weldeth al.
Bot yit the lawe original,
Which he hath set in the natures,
Mot worchen in the creatures,
That therof mai be non obstacle,
Bot if it stonde upon miracle
Thurgh preiere of som holy man.

And forthi, so as I began
To speke upon Astronomie,
As it is write in the clergie,
To telle hou the planetes fare,
Som part I thenke to declare,
Mi Sone, unto thin Audience.

Astronomie is the science
Of wisdom and of hih connynge,
Which makth a man have knowlechinge
Of Sterres in the firmament,
Figure, cercle and moevement
Of ech of hem in sondri place,
And what betwen hem is of space,
Hou so thei moeve or stonde faste,
Al this it telleth to the laste.

Assembled with Astronomie
Is ek that ilke Astrologie
The which in juggementz acompteth
Th'effect, what every sterre amonteth,
And hou thei causen many a wonder
To tho climatz that stonde hem under.
And forto telle it more plein,
These olde philosphres sein
That Orbis, which I spak of err,
Is that which we fro th'erthe a ferr
Beholde, and firmament it calle,
In which the sterres stonden alle,
Among the whiche in special
Planetes sefne principal
Ther ben, that mannes sihte demeth,
Bot th'orizonte, as to ous semeth.

And also ther ben signes tuelve,
Whiche have her cercles be hemselve
Compassed in the zodiaque,
In which thei have here places take.
And as thei stonden in degre,
Here cercles more or lasse be,
Mad after the proporcion
Of th'erthe, whos condicion
Is set to be the foundement
To sustiene up the firmament.
And be this skile a man mai knowe,
The more that thei stonden lowe,
The more ben the cercles lasse;
That causeth why that some passe
Here due cours tofore an other.

Bot nou, mi lieve dere brother,
As thou desirest forto wite
What I finde in the bokes write,
To telle of the planetes sevene,
Hou that thei stonde upon the hevene
And in what point that thei ben inne,
Tak hiede, for I wol beginne,
So as the Philosophre tauhte
To Alisandre and it betauhte,
Wherof that he was fulli tawht
Of wisdom, which was him betawht.

Benethe alle othre stant the Mone,
The which hath with the See to done:
Of flodes hihe and ebbes lowe
Upon his change it schal be knowe;
And every fissh which hath a schelle
Mot in his governance duelle,
To wexe and wane in his degre,
As be the Mone a man mai se;
And al that stant upon the grounde
Of his moisture it mot be founde.
Alle othre sterres, as men finde,
Be schynende of here oghne kinde
Outake only the monelyht,
Which is noght of himselve bright,
Bot as he takth it of the Sonne.
And yit he hath noght al fulwonne
His lyht, that he nys somdiel derk;
Bot what the lette is of that werk
In Almageste it telleth this:
The Mones cercle so lowe is,
Wherof the Sonne out of his stage
Ne seth him noght with full visage,
For he is with the ground beschaded,
So that the Mone is somdiel faded
And may noght fully schyne cler.

Bot what man under his pouer
Is bore, he schal his places change
And seche manye londes strange:
And as of this condicion
The Mones disposicion
Upon the lond of Alemaigne
Is set, and ek upon Bretaigne,
Which nou is cleped Engelond;
For thei travaile in every lond.

Of the Planetes the secounde
Above the Mone hath take his bounde,
Mercurie, and his nature is this,
That under him who that bore is,
In boke he schal be studious
And in wrytinge curious,
And slouh and lustles to travaile
In thing which elles myhte availe:
He loveth ese, he loveth reste,
So is he noght the worthieste;
Bot yit with somdiel besinesse
His herte is set upon richesse.
And as in this condicion,
Th'effect and disposicion
Of this Planete and of his chance
Is most in Burgoigne and in France.

Next to Mercurie, as wol befalle,
Stant that Planete which men calle
Venus, whos constellacion
Governeth al the nacion
Of lovers, wher thei spiede or non,
Of whiche I trowe thou be on:
Bot whiderward thin happes wende,
Schal this planete schewe at ende,
As it hath do to many mo,
To some wel, to some wo.

And natheles of this Planete
The moste part is softe and swete;
For who that therof takth his berthe,
He schal desire joie and merthe,
Gentil, courteis and debonaire,
To speke his wordes softe and faire,
Such schal he be be weie of kinde,
And overal wher he may finde
Plesance of love, his herte boweth
With al his myht and there he woweth.
He is so ferforth Amourous,
He not what thing is vicious
Touchende love, for that lawe
Ther mai no maner man withdrawe,
The which venerien is bore
Be weie of kinde, and therefore
Venus of love the goddesse
Is cleped: bot of wantounesse
The climat of hir lecherie
Is most commun in Lombardie.

Next unto this Planete of love
The brighte Sonne stant above,
Which is the hindrere of the nyht
And forthrere of the daies lyht,
As he which is the worldes ye,
Thurgh whom the lusti compaignie
Of foules be the morwe singe,
The freisshe floures sprede and springe,
The hihe tre the ground beschadeth,
And every mannes herte gladeth.
And for it is the hed Planete,
Hou that he sitteth in his sete,
Of what richesse, of what nobleie,
These bokes telle, and thus thei seie.

Of gold glistrende Spoke and whiel
The Sonne his carte hath faire and wiel,
In which he sitt, and is coroned
With brighte stones environed;
Of whiche if that I speke schal,
Ther be tofore in special
Set in the front of his corone
Thre Stones, whiche no persone
Hath upon Erthe, and the ferste is
Be name cleped Licuchis;
That othre tuo be cleped thus,
Astrices and Ceramius.
In his corone also behinde,
Be olde bokes as I finde,
Ther ben of worthi Stones thre
Set ech of hem in his degre:
Wherof a Cristall is that on,
Which that corone is set upon;
The seconde is an Adamant;
The thridde is noble and avenant,
Which cleped is Ydriades.
And over this yit natheles
Upon the sydes of the werk,
After the wrytinge of the clerk,
Ther sitten fyve Stones mo:
The smaragdine is on of tho,
Jaspis and Elitropius
And Dendides and Jacinctus.
Lo, thus the corone is beset,
Wherof it schyneth wel the bet;
And in such wise his liht to sprede
Sit with his Diademe on hede
The Sonne schynende in his carte.

And forto lede him swithe and smarte
After the bryhte daies lawe,
Ther ben ordeined forto drawe
Foure hors his Char and him withal,
Wherof the names telle I schal:
Eritheus the ferste is hote,
The which is red and schyneth hote,
The seconde Acteos the bryhte,
Lampes the thridde coursier hihte,
And Philogeus is the ferthe,
That bringen lyht unto this erthe,
And gon so swift upon the hevene,
In foure and twenty houres evene
The carte with the bryhte Sonne
Thei drawe, so that overronne
Thei have under the cercles hihe
Al Middelerthe in such an hye.

And thus the Sonne is overal
The chief Planete imperial,
Above him and benethe him thre:
And thus betwen hem regneth he,
As he that hath the middel place
Among the Sevene, and of his face
Be glade alle erthly creatures,
And taken after the natures
Here ese and recreacion.

And in his constellacion
Who that is bore in special,
Of good will and of liberal
He schal be founde in alle place,
And also stonde in mochel grace
Toward the lordes forto serve
And gret profit and thonk deserve.
And over that it causeth yit
A man to be soubtil of wit
To worche in gold, and to be wys
In every thing which is of pris.
Bot forto speken in what cost
Of al this erthe he regneth most
As for wisdom, it is in Grece,
Wher is apropred thilke spiece.

Mars the Planete bataillous
Next to the Sonne glorious
Above stant, and doth mervailes
Upon the fortune of batailes.
The conquerours be daies olde
Were unto this planete holde:
Bot who that his nativite
Hath take upon the proprete
Of Martes disposicioun
Be weie of constellacioun,
He schal be fiers and folhastif
And desirous of werre and strif.
Bot forto telle redely
In what climat most comunly
That this planete hath his effect,
Seid is that he hath his aspect
Upon the holi lond so cast,
That there is no pes stedefast.

Above Mars upon the hevene,
The sexte Planete of the sevene,
Stant Jupiter the delicat,
Which causeth pes and no debat.
For he is cleped that Planete
Which of his kinde softe and swete
Attempreth al that to him longeth;
And whom this planete underfongeth
To stonde upon his regiment,
He schal be meke and pacient
And fortunat to Marchandie
And lusti to delicacie
In every thing which he schal do.

This Jupiter is cause also
Of the science of lyhte werkes,
And in this wise tellen clerkes
He is the Planete of delices.
Bot in Egipte of his offices
He regneth most in special:
For ther be lustes overal
Of al that to this lif befalleth;
For ther no stormy weder falleth,
Which myhte grieve man or beste,
And ek the lond is so honeste
That it is plentevous and plein,
Ther is non ydel ground in vein;
And upon such felicite
Stant Jupiter in his degre.

The heyeste and aboven alle
Stant that planete which men calle
Saturnus, whos complexion
Is cold, and his condicion
Causeth malice and crualte
To him the whos nativite
Is set under his governance.
For alle hise werkes ben grevance
And enemy to mannes hele,
In what degre that he schal dele.
His climat is in Orient,
Wher that he is most violent.

Of the Planetes by and by,
Hou that thei stonde upon the Sky,
Fro point to point as thou myht hiere,
Was Alisandre mad to liere.
Bot overthis touchende his lore,
Of thing that thei him tawhte more
Upon the scoles of clergie
Now herkne the Philosophie.

He which departeth dai fro nyht,
That on derk and that other lyht,
Of sevene daies made a weke,
A Monthe of foure wekes eke
He hath ordeigned in his lawe,
Of Monthes tuelve and ek forthdrawe
He hath also the longe yeer.
And as he sette of his pouer
Acordant to the daies sevene
Planetes Sevene upon the hevene,
As thou tofore hast herd devise,
To speke riht in such a wise,
To every Monthe be himselve
Upon the hevene of Signes tuelve
He hath after his Ordinal
Assigned on in special,
Wherof, so as I schal rehersen,
The tydes of the yer diversen.
Bot pleinly forto make it knowe
Hou that the Signes sitte arowe,
Ech after other be degre
In substance and in proprete
The zodiaque comprehendeth
Withinne his cercle, as it appendeth.

The ferste of whiche natheles
Be name is cleped Aries,
Which lich a wether of stature
Resembled is in his figure.
And as it seith in Almageste,
Of Sterres tuelve upon this beste
Ben set, wherof in his degre
The wombe hath tuo, the heved hath thre,
The Tail hath sevene, and in this wise,
As thou myht hiere me divise,
Stant Aries, which hot and drye
Is of himself, and in partie
He is the receipte and the hous
Of myhty Mars the bataillous.
And overmore ek, as I finde,
The creatour of alle kinde
Upon this Signe ferst began
The world, whan that he made man.
And of this constellacioun
The verray operacioun
Availeth, if a man therinne
The pourpos of his werk beginne;
For thanne he hath of proprete
Good sped and gret felicite.

The tuelve Monthes of the yeer
Attitled under the pouer
Of these tuelve Signes stonde;
Wherof that thou schalt understonde
This Aries on of the tuelve
Hath March attitled for himselve,
Whan every bridd schal chese his make,
And every neddre and every Snake
And every Reptil which mai moeve,
His myht assaieth forto proeve,
To crepen out ayein the Sonne,
Whan Ver his Seson hath begonne.

Taurus the seconde after this
Of Signes, which figured is
Unto a Bole, is dreie and cold;
And as it is in bokes told,
He is the hous appourtienant
To Venus, somdiel descordant.
This Bole is ek with sterres set,
Thurgh whiche he hath hise hornes knet
Unto the tail of Aries,
So is he noght ther sterreles.
Upon his brest ek eyhtetiene
He hath, and ek, as it is sene,
Upon his tail stonde othre tuo.
His Monthe assigned ek also
Is Averil, which of his schoures
Ministreth weie unto the floures.

The thridde signe is Gemini,
Which is figured redely
Lich to tuo twinnes of mankinde,
That naked stonde; and as I finde,
Thei be with Sterres wel bego:
The heved hath part of thilke tuo
That schyne upon the boles tail,
So be thei bothe of o parail;
But on the wombe of Gemini
Ben fyve sterres noght forthi,
And ek upon the feet be tweie,
So as these olde bokes seie,
That wise Tholomeus wrot.
His propre Monthe wel I wot
Assigned is the lusti Maii,
Whanne every brid upon his lay
Among the griene leves singeth,
And love of his pointure stingeth
After the lawes of nature
The youthe of every creature.

Cancer after the reule and space
Of Signes halt the ferthe place.
Like to the crabbe he hath semblance,
And hath unto his retienance
Sextiene sterres, wherof ten,
So as these olde wise men
Descrive, he berth on him tofore,
And in the middel tuo be bore,
And foure he hath upon his ende.
Thus goth he sterred in his kende,
And of himself is moiste and cold,
And is the propre hous and hold
Which appartieneth to the Mone,
And doth what longeth him to done.
The Monthe of Juin unto this Signe
Thou schalt after the reule assigne.

The fifte Signe is Leo hote,
Whos kinde is schape dreie and hote,
In whom the Sonne hath herbergage.
And the semblance of his ymage
Is a leoun, which in baillie
Of sterres hath his pourpartie:
The foure, which as Cancer hath
Upon his ende, Leo tath
Upon his heved, and thanne nest
He hath ek foure upon his brest,
And on upon his tail behinde,
In olde bokes as we finde.
His propre Monthe is Juyl be name,
In which men pleien many a game.

After Leo Virgo the nexte
Of Signes cleped is the sexte,
Wherof the figure is a Maide;
And as the Philosophre saide,
Sche is the welthe and the risinge,
The lust, the joie and the likinge
Unto Mercurie: and soth to seie
Sche is with sterres wel beseie,
Wherof Leo hath lent hire on,
Which sit on hih hir heved upon,
Hire wombe hath fyve, hir feet also
Have other fyve: and overmo
Touchende as of complexion,
Be kindly disposicion
Of dreie and cold this Maiden is.
And forto tellen over this
Hir Monthe, thou schalt understonde,
Whan every feld hath corn in honde
And many a man his bak hath plied,
Unto this Signe is Augst applied.

After Virgo to reknen evene
Libra sit in the nombre of sevene,
Which hath figure and resemblance
Unto a man which a balance
Berth in his hond as forto weie:
In boke and as it mai be seie,
Diverse sterres to him longeth,
Wherof on hevede he underfongeth
Ferst thre, and ek his wombe hath tuo,
And doun benethe eighte othre mo.
This Signe is hot and moiste bothe,
The whiche thinges be noght lothe
Unto Venus, so that alofte
Sche resteth in his hous fulofte,
And ek Saturnus often hyed
Is in this Signe and magnefied.
His propre Monthe is seid Septembre,
Which yifth men cause to remembre,
If eny Sor be left behinde
Of thing which grieve mai to kinde.

Among the Signes upon heighte
The Signe which is nombred eighte
Is Scorpio, which as feloun
Figured is a Scorpioun.
Bot for al that yit natheles
Is Scorpio noght sterreles;
For Libra granteth him his ende
Of eighte sterres, wher he wende,
The whiche upon his heved assised
He berth, and ek ther ben divised
Upon his wombe sterres thre,
And eighte upon his tail hath he.
Which of his kinde is moiste and cold
And unbehovely manyfold;
He harmeth Venus and empeireth,
Bot Mars unto his hous repeireth,
Bot war whan thei togedre duellen.
His propre Monthe is, as men tellen,
Octobre, which bringth the kalende
Of wynter, that comth next suiende.

The nynthe Signe in nombre also,
Which folweth after Scorpio,
Is cleped Sagittarius,
The whos figure is marked thus,
A Monstre with a bowe on honde:
On whom that sondri sterres stonde,
Thilke eighte of whiche I spak tofore,
The whiche upon the tail ben bore
Of Scorpio, the heved al faire
Bespreden of the Sagittaire;
And eighte of othre stonden evene
Upon his wombe, and othre sevene
Ther stonde upon his tail behinde.
And he is hot and dreie of kinde:
To Jupiter his hous is fre,
Bot to Mercurie in his degre,
For thei ben noght of on assent,
He worcheth gret empeirement.
This Signe hath of his proprete
A Monthe, which of duete
After the sesoun that befalleth
The Plowed Oxe in wynter stalleth;
And fyr into the halle he bringeth,
And thilke drinke of which men singeth,
He torneth must into the wyn;
Thanne is the larder of the swyn;
That is Novembre which I meene,
Whan that the lef hath lost his greene.

The tenthe Signe dreie and cold,
The which is Capricornus told,
Unto a Got hath resemblance:
For whos love and whos aqueintance
Withinne hise houses to sojorne
It liketh wel unto Satorne,
Bot to the Mone it liketh noght,
For no profit is there wroght.
This Signe as of his proprete
Upon his heved hath sterres thre,
And ek upon his wombe tuo,
And tweie upon his tail also.
Decembre after the yeeres forme,
So as the bokes ous enforme,
With daies schorte and nyhtes longe
This ilke Signe hath underfonge.

Of tho that sitte upon the hevene
Of Signes in the nombre ellevene
Aquarius hath take his place,
And stant wel in Satornes grace,
Which duelleth in his herbergage,
Bot to the Sonne he doth oultrage.
This Signe is verraily resembled
Lich to a man which halt assembled
In eyther hand a water spoute,
Wherof the stremes rennen oute.
He is of kinde moiste and hot,
And he that of the sterres wot
Seith that he hath of sterres tuo
Upon his heved, and ben of tho
That Capricorn hath on his ende;
And as the bokes maken mende,
That Tholomeus made himselve,
He hath ek on his wombe tuelve,
And tweie upon his ende stonde.
Thou schalt also this understonde,
The frosti colde Janever,
Whan comen is the newe yeer,
That Janus with his double face
In his chaiere hath take his place
And loketh upon bothe sides,
Somdiel toward the wynter tydes,
Somdiel toward the yeer suiende,
That is the Monthe belongende
Unto this Signe, and of his dole
He yifth the ferste Primerole.

The tuelfthe, which is last of alle
Of Signes, Piscis men it calle,
The which, as telleth the scripture,
Berth of tuo fisshes the figure.
So is he cold and moiste of kinde,
And ek with sterres, as I finde,
Beset in sondri wise, as thus:
Tuo of his ende Aquarius
Hath lent unto his heved, and tuo
This Signe hath of his oghne also
Upon his wombe, and over this
Upon his ende also ther is
A nombre of twenty sterres bryghte,
Which is to sen a wonder sighte.
Toward this Signe into his hous
Comth Jupiter the glorious,
And Venus ek with him acordeth
To duellen, as the bok recordeth.
The Monthe unto this Signe ordeined
Is Februer, which is bereined,
And with londflodes in his rage
At Fordes letteth the passage.

Nou hast thou herd the proprete
Of Signes, bot in his degre
Albumazar yit over this
Seith, so as therthe parted is
In foure, riht so ben divised
The Signes tuelve and stonde assised,
That ech of hem for his partie
Hath his climat to justefie.
Wherof the ferste regiment
Toward the part of Orient
From Antioche and that contre
Governed is of Signes thre,
That is Cancer, Virgo, Leo:
And toward Occident also
From Armenie, as I am lerned,
Of Capricorn it stant governed,
Of Pisces and Aquarius:
And after hem I finde thus,
Southward from Alisandre forth
Tho Signes whiche most ben worth
In governance of that doaire,
Libra thei ben and Sagittaire
With Scorpio, which is conjoint
With hem to stonde upon that point:
Constantinople the Cite,
So as the bokes tellen me,
The laste of this division
Stant untoward Septemtrion,
Wher as be weie of pourveance
Hath Aries the governance
Forth with Taurus and Gemini.

Thus ben the Signes propreli
Divided, as it is reherced,
Wherof the londes ben diversed.
Lo thus, mi Sone, as thou myht hiere,
Was Alisandre mad to liere
Of hem that weren for his lore.

But nou to loken overmore,
Of othre sterres hou thei fare
I thenke hierafter to declare,
So as king Alisandre in youthe
Of him that suche thinges couthe
Enformed was tofore his yhe
Be nyhte upon the sterres hihe.

[Now follows a section on the fifteen stars,
VII.1281-1438, and a section on the authors
of the science of Astronomy, VII.1439-1492.]


As they tell us



regions (earth or sky)

the celestial sphere
from afar

their by themselves

[The Moon]

his = its

completely won


slow without desire


whether they succeed

[The Sun]


[Aries, the Ram]

[The month of March]


[Taurus, the Bull]

[The month of April]

[Cancer, the Crab]


[The month of June]

[The house of the Sun]

[The month of July]

[The house of Mercury]

[The month of August]

receives, has

[The house of Venus and Saturn]

[The month of Spetember]

[Scorpio, the Scorpion]

unless [The house of Mars]

[The month of October]

[Sagittarius, Monstrous Archer]

[Capricorn, the Goat]

[The 'fall' of the Moon]

[The month of December]

[Aquarius, the Aater Bearer]

[The house of Saturn]
[The 'fall' of the Sun]

gathered, taken

[Pisces, the Fish]

Text adapted from: The English Works of John Gower, ed. G. C. Macaulay, EETS e.s. 81-82 (London, 1900-1901).

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