Charles de Valois at the age of fourteen became the Duke of Orleans after the murder of his father, Louis d’Orleans (brother to Charles VI of France). His history is well known, and easily found, so I won’t go into too much detail with it, but during his various periods of captivity he composed most of his famous works in both English and French, including his ballades and chansons. Despite the political upheaval of the time, little of it comes out in his poetry.
In 1440 he returned to France and spent the next ten years entangled in various political activities, after which he retired to his chateau at Blois where he focused on his poetic endeavors and welcomed the likes of Rene of Anjou and even Francois Villon into his home. During this period he composed the majority of his rondeaux, traditional short fixed form lyrics with recurring lines.
Tonight I wanted to look at one of his poems (accent marks are omitted):
“Le temps a laissie son manteau”
Le temps a laissie son manteau
De vent, de froidure et de pluye
Et s’est vestu de brouderie,
De soleil luyant, cler et beau.
Il n’y a beste, ne oyseau,
Qu’en son jargon ne chante ou crie:
Le temps a laissie son manteau!
Riviere, fontaine et suisseau
Portent, en livree jolie,
Gouttes d’argent d’orfaverie,
Chascun s’abille de nouveau:
Le temps a laissie son manteau.
Here is a common translation:
“The season has shed its mantle”
The season has shed its mantle
Of wind, cold and rain,
And has clothed itself in embroidery,
In gleaming sunshine, bright and fair.
There is no animal or bird
That does not sing or call in its own tongue:
The season has shed its mantle!
Stream, fountain and brook
Bear, as handsome livery,
Silver drops of goldsmith’s work;
Everyone puts on new garments:
The season has shed its mantle.
A laissie” has the connotation of something sliding, or of letting go, and combined with the imagery of spring I visualize the female form allowing the coat of winter to slide down her shoulder onto the ground as she welcomes the oncoming season.
I am not entirely sure I like the translation of “mantle” that is now most commonly accepted. Aside from the similarity with “manteau” I see no reason to use it, and would much prefer the lesser known versions that translate it to “coat” or “cloak.”
I love the imagery in the third line of embroidery. Much like now, in the fifteenth century when a woman was expecting, others would embroider blankets for the new baby as gifts. Here the image of embroidery plays with this idea as the new season is clothed in the embroidery reserved for a newborn. Further, imagine the change in clothing from cloak, or coat, heavy for winter, to lighter garments. The fourth line, focusing on sunshine, also alludes to the light of the sun and ties in with the lightness of the season as the word used “luyant” brings forth “lumiere” (light from the sun), but also “leger” (light as in light weight) that is made more apparent by the following adjectives- “cler” (clear, as in transparent or translucent such as embroidery or light clothing, and “beau” (fair, with the implication of something pretty, dainty, and light).
In the second stanza the imagery moves towards the physical attributes of the natural world – from the personified Spring (perhaps in feminine form) to the actual animals and birds crying out with glee at the arrival of the new season. This is a joyous occasion.
The last stanza takes the invocation even further, refocusing it on even the inanimate yet intricate parts of nature that also share in festivities of welcoming Spring. Here the rich garments that adorn the rivers and brooks are more natural elements, yet described in terms of livery with silver and gold – concepts the reader could understand and use as points of comparison. The last two lines sum up the entirety of the poem, where “chacsun” (everyone, or everything) changes their wardrobe, and thus lets go of their winter cloaks.
I could not find the actual manuscript this was in. I found a reference to it stating it comes from MS. 25458, Bibliotheque National de France, and that the poem was on folio 365. I found the manuscript online, and while it does contain Charles d’Orlean’s works, the particular excerpt was nowhere in the 528 pages of the manuscript.
This is the only picture I can provide:
The picture comes from French Poetry translated by Stanley Appelbaum.
I cannot tell for certain, but it appears two different hands worked on this text. The last five lines seem less careful than the first part, indicating that perhaps the first part was copied, while the latter writer was more confident and less concerned with making mistakes. Of course this is complete conjecture since the picture is not of the best quality, nor have I been able to find where it comes from, and it doesn’t help that the picture provided is not in color (the MS in question is written in predominantly red and redish brown ink). Also, it makes little sense as to why two people would split such a short poem. However, what I can say with more certainty is that this handwriting (top or bottom) of my picture is unlike MS 25458.
If anyone knows anything about this, please let me know (more for my own curiosity than anything else) and it would be greatly appreciated.
In the meantime, here is Alain Jacques beautifully singing the poem: