These are my translations of the fabulous Charles d’Orleans, in my opinion one of the great under-known poets of all time. One of the poems translated is the first known Valentine poem.


My translations of the fabulous Charles d’Orleans

A bio of Charles d’Orleans follows my translations of his poems. One of the poems translated is the first known Valentine poem.

Spring
by Charles d’Orleans (c. 1394-1465)
loose translation/interpretation/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
drawn 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.

***

Confession of a Stolen Kiss
by Charles d’Orleans (c. 1394-1465)
loose translation/interpretation 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.

Translator note: 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!

***

Oft in My Thought
by Charles d'Orleans (c. 1394-1465)
loose translation/interpretation/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 (c. 1394-1465)
loose translation/interpretation/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!

***

The season has cast its coat aside
by Charles d'Orleans (c. 1394-1465)
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!

***

The year lays down his mantle cold
by Charles d'Orleans (c. 1394-1465)
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.

***

Winter has cast his cloak away
by Charles d'Orleans (c. 1394-1465)
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!

Note: This rondeau was set to music by Debussy in his “Trois chansons de France.”

***

Charles d’Orleans has been credited with writing the first Valentine card, in the form of a poem for his wife. He wrote the poem in 1415 at age 21, in the first year of his captivity while being held prisoner in the Tower of London after having been captured by the British at the Battle of Agincourt. The Battle of Agincourt was the centerpiece of William Shakespeare’s historical play Henry V, in which Charles appears as a character. At age 16, Charles had married the 11-year-old Bonne of Armagnac in a political alliance, which explains the age difference he mentions in his poem. (Coincidentally, I share his wife’s birthday, the 19th of February.) Unfortunately, Charles would be held prisoner for a quarter century and would never see his wife again, as she died before he was released.

Why did Charles call his wife “Valentine”? Well, his mother’s name was Valentina Visconti ...

My Very Gentle Valentine
by Charles d’Orleans (c. 1394-1465)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

My very gentle Valentine,
Alas, for me you were born too soon,
As I was born too late for you!
May God forgive my jailer
Who has kept me from you this entire year.
I am sick without your love, my dear,
My very gentle Valentine.

Charles d’Orleans (1394-1465) was a French royal born into an aristocratic family: his grandfather was Charles V of France and his uncle was Charles VI. His father, Louis I, 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 high order in his second language. A master of poetic forms, he wrote primarily ballades, chansons, complaints and rondeaux/roundels/rondels. He has been called the “father of French lyric poetry” and has also been credited with writing the first Valentine’s Day poem.




Poetry by Michael R. Burch The PoetBay support member heart!
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Written on 2021-06-05 at 02:40

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Michael R. Burch The PoetBay support member heart!
Charles d'Orleans ranks high on my list of the world's most undervalued poets. I hope my translations help him reach a larger audience.
2021-06-06


Coo & Co The PoetBay support member heart!
Members of Coo & Co had not heard of Charles d'Orleans before reading these interesting translations.

A few highlights: 'like ecstatic sparks / drawn from coal' ('Young Lovers'); 'ghostly father' ('Confession'; we agree with 'priest'); 'earthly profits' ('Oft'); 'sweet smiling mouth' ('Rondel'); and pretty much everything about the seasonal poems, for want of a better term.

It is pleasant to write Valentine cards; we suggest that a poem about d'Orleans in the tower might be rather excellent; perhaps a sonnet? Turning from his grim surroundings into the brightness of love for his wife, or something. Anyway, very much enjoyed :>)
2021-06-05