Charles d'Orleans translations

Charles d'Orleans translations

A Poem by Michael R. Burch

Spring
by Charles d'Orleans
translation/modernization by Michael R. Burch

Young lovers,
greeting the spring
fling themselves downhill,
making cobblestones ring
with their wild leaps and arcs,
like ecstatic sparks
struck from coal.

What is their brazen goal?

They grab at whatever passes,
so we can only hazard guesses.
But they rear like prancing steeds
raked by brilliant spurs of need,
Young lovers.

***

Oft in My Thought
by Charles d'Orleans
translation/modernization by Michael R. Burch

So often in my busy mind I sought,
Around the advent of the fledgling year,
For something pretty that I really ought
To give my lady dear;
But that sweet thought's been wrested from me, clear,
Since death, alas, has sealed her under clay
And robbed the world of all that's precious here―
God keep her soul, I can no better say.

For me to keep my manner and my thought
Acceptable, as suits my age's hour?
While proving that I never once forgot
Her worth? It tests my power!
I serve her now with masses and with prayer;
For it would be a shame for me to stray
Far from my faith, when my time's drawing near
God keep her soul, I can no better say.

Now earthly profits fail, since all is lost
And the cost of everything became so dear;
Therefore, O Lord, who rules the higher host,
Take my good deeds, as many as there are,
And crown her, Lord, above in your bright sphere,
As heaven's truest maid! And may I say:
Most good, most fair, most likely to bring cheer
God keep her soul, I can no better say.

When I praise her, or hear her praises raised,
I recall how recently she brought me pleasure;
Then my heart floods like an overflowing bay
And makes me wish to dress for my own bier
God keep her soul, I can no better say.

***

Rondel: Your Smiling Mouth
by Charles d'Orleans
translation/modernization by Michael R. Burch

Your smiling mouth and laughing eyes, bright gray,
Your ample breasts and slender arms’ twin chains,
Your hands so smooth, each finger straight and plain,
Your little feet
please, what more can I say?

It is my fetish when you’re far away
To muse on these and thus to soothe my pain

Your smiling mouth and laughing eyes, bright gray,
Your ample breasts and slender arms’ twin chains.
So would I beg you, if I only may,
To see such sights as I before have seen,
Because my fetish pleases me. Obscene?
I’ll be obsessed until my dying day
By your sweet smiling mouth and eyes, bright gray,
Your ample breasts and slender arms’ twin chains!

Confession of a Stolen Kiss

by Charles d’Orleans
loose translation/interpretation/modernization by Michael R. Burch


My ghostly father, I confess,
First to God and then to you,
That at a window (you know how)
I stole a kiss of great sweetness,
Which was done out of avidness�"
But it is done, not undone, now.

My ghostly father, I confess,
First to God and then to you.

But I shall restore it, doubtless,
Again, if it may be that I know how;
And thus to God I make a vow,
And always I ask forgiveness.

My ghostly father, I confess,
First to God and then to you.

By "ghostly father" I take Charles d’Orleans to be confessing to a priest. If so, it's ironic that the kiss was "stolen" at a window and the confession is being made at the window of a confession booth. But it also seems possible that Charles could be confessing to his human father, murdered in his youth and now a ghost. There is wicked humor in the poem, as Charles is apparently vowing to keep asking for forgiveness because he intends to keep stealing kisses at every opportunity!

The next three poems are interpretations of "Le temps a laissé son manteau" ("The season has cast off his mantle"). This famous rondeau was set to music by Debussy in his Trois chansons de France.

The season has cast its coat aside
by Charles d'Orleans
loose translation/interpretation/modernization by Michael R. Burch


The season has cast its coat aside
of wind and cold and rain,
to dress in embroidered light again:
bright sunlight, fit for a bride!

There isn't a bird or beast astride
that fails to sing this sweet refrain:
"The season has cast its coat aside!"

Now rivers, fountains, springs and tides
dressed in their summer best
with silver beads impressed
in a fine display now glide:
the season has cast its coat aside!

Winter has cast his cloak away
by Charles d'Orleans
loose translation/interpretation/modernization by Michael R. Burch


Winter has cast his cloak away
of wind and cold and chilling rain
to dress in embroidered light again:
the light of day�"bright, festive, gay!

Each bird and beast, without delay,
in its own tongue, sings this refrain:
"Winter has cast his cloak away!"

Brooks, fountains, rivers, streams at play,
wear, with their summer livery,
bright beads of silver jewelry.
All the Earth has a new and fresh display:
Winter has cast his cloak away!

The year lays down his mantle cold
by Charles d’Orleans
loose translation/interpretation/modernization by Michael R. Burch


The year lays down his mantle cold
of wind, chill rain and bitter air,
and now goes clad in clothes of gold
of smiling suns and seasons fair,

while birds and beasts of wood and fold
now with each cry and song declare:
"The year lays down his mantle cold!"

All brooks, springs, rivers, seaward rolled,
now pleasant summer livery wear
with silver beads embroidered where
the world puts off its raiment old.
The year lays down his mantle cold.

Charles d'Orleans (c. 1394-1465) was born into an aristocratic family: his grandfather was Charles V of France and his uncle was Charles VI. His father, Louis I, the Duke of Orleans, was a patron of poets and artists. The poet Christine de Pizan dedicated poems to his mother, Valentina Visconti. He became the Duke of Orleans at age 13 after his father was murdered by John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy. He was captured at age 21 in the battle of Agincourt and taken to England, where he remained a prisoner for the next quarter century. While imprisoned there he learned English and wrote poetry of a very high order in his second language. A master of poetic forms, he wrote primarily ballades, chansons and rondeaus/roundels/rondels. His famous rondeau "Le temps a laissé son manteau" ("The season has cast his mantle away") was set to music by Debussy in his Trois chansons de France. (There are three English translations of the rondeau on this page.) Charles d'Orleans has also been credited with writing the first Valentine’s Day poem. I rank him second only to Chaucer among the Medieval English language poets, and above Chaucer at his specialty�"shorter lyric poems like rondels�"which is really amazing considering the fact that he didn't learn English until his twenties and may have studied the language by reading Chaucer! Apparently he was a quick study.�"MRB

Charles d'Orleans Timeline/Chronology

1394 - Charles is born in Paris on Nov. 24, 1394, the first son to survive infancy of Louis of Orleans, the brother of Charles VI, and Valentina Visconti of Milan.
1406 - Charles, age 11, marries his cousin Isabelle, age 16, the daughter of Charles VI and Queen Isabeau of France, and the widow of Richard II of England.
1407 - The day before Charles's 13th birthday his father Louis d'Orleans is assassinated in Paris by Burgundians under John the Fearless, on Nov. 23, 1407.
1408 - Charles's mother dies at Blois at age 38 on December 4, 1408; Charles becomes Duke of Orleans at age 14.
1409 - Isabelle bears Charles a daughter, Jeanne, but dies within a few days on Sept. 13, 1409; Charles turns 15 the next month.
1410 - Charles marries Bonne, age 11, the daughter of Bernard, count of Armagnac, and niece of the duke of Berry, on August 15, 1410.
1412 - Charles sends his brother Jean, age 12, to England as a hostage in the custody of the duke of Clarence, on November 14, 1412.
1415 - Charles is captured at the battle of Agincourt on Oct. 25, 1415 and is taken prisoner to England, just in time for his 21st birthday.
1416 - Charles is initially held in the Tower of London.
1417 - In June Charles is sent to Pontefract (Yorks), in custody of Robert Waterton.
1427 - Joan of Arc, supported by Charles's brother Jean, the Count of Dunois, takes up the cause of freeing France from English control.
1429 - Henry VI of England is crowned at age eight.
1431 - Henry VI is crowned king of France in the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris; Joan of Arc is burned at the stake.
1432 - Charles's daughter Jeanne dies at age 23; his wife Bonne dies sometime between 1430 and 1435.
1440 - Charles is formally released from captivity on October 28, 1440. Charles, now 46, marries Marie of Cleves, niece of Isabelle and duchess of Burgundy, age 14.
1445 - Charles's brother, Jean of Angouleme, is released from English captivity after 33 years.
1457 - After 17 years of marriage, Marie of Cleves bears Charles a daughter, Marie. Francois Villon, a guest at Blois, writes a poem to celebrate the birth.
1461 - Charles VII dies; Louis XI ascends the throne.
1462 - Marie bears Charles a son, the future Louis XII, known during his reign as the "Father of his People."
1464 - Marie bears Charles a daughter, Anne.
1465 - Charles of Orleans dies at age 70 on January 4, 1465. His poetry will still be read 500 years later.



© 2020 Michael R. Burch


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Added on October 17, 2019
Last Updated on June 18, 2020
Tags: Translation, French, Middle English, Charles d'Orleans, Modernization, Charles, Orleans, France, Love, Rondel, Roundel, Rondeau