Gower on Holy War – Poetry from the Crusading Era.

This item is from poems by John Gower (dates 1330-1408), a contemporary of Chaucer; I include a rough ‘modern English’ version of my own ….

I prei you tell me nay or yee,

To passe over the grete See

To were and sle the Sarazin

Is that the law?


 … Sone myn,

To preche and soffre for the feith,

That have I herd the gospell seith,

But forto sle, that heire I noght.

Modern version ….

I pray you tell me yes or no; to pass over the great sea to war against and slay the Saracen – is that lawful?


 …..My son, to preach the faith and suffer for it, that I have heard the gospel says; but to slay for the gospel, I hear nothing in it of that.

Second Poem

To slen and feihten ous bidde

Hem whom thei scholde, as the bok seith,

Converten unto Christes feith.

But hierof have I gret mervaile,

Hou thei wol bidde me travaile;

A Sarazin if I sle schal,

I sle the Soule forth withal,

And that was nevere Christes lore.

Modern version …. 

They bid us fight and slay those who they should, according to the Bible, convert to faith in Jesus.  And it seems to me something to marvel at, how they tell me to work in such a way; for if I slay a Saracen, I shall also slay his soul (because he will die ‘unsaved’ SL) – and that was never Christ’s teaching. 

(I found these quoted in “God of Battles”, by Peter Partner, who acknowledges “The Complete Works of John Gower”, ed. Macaulay GC,  Oxford 1901.)


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