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Charles d'Orleans (1394-1465)
Modern English poetry translation by Michael R. Burch
Charles d'Orleans bio and timeline/chronology


Charles d'Orleans (1394-1465) was born into an aristocratic family: his grandfather was Charles V of France and his uncle was Charles VI. His father was a patron of poets and artists, and 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 he learned English and wrote poetry of a high order in his second language. A master of poetic forms, he wrote primarily ballades, chansons and rondels. He has also been credited with writing the first Valentine’s Day poem.

Spring
by Charles d’Orleans (1394-1465)
loose translation 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 that we can only hazard guesses.
But they rear like prancing steeds
raked by brilliant spurs of need,
Young lovers.

The original French poem:

Jeunes amoureux nouveaulx
En la nouvelle saison,
Par les rues, sans raison,
Chevauchent, faisans les saulx.
Et font saillir des carreaulx
Le feu, comme de cherbon,
Jeunes amoureux nouveaulx.
Je ne sçay se leurs travaulx
Ilz emploient bien ou non,
Mais piqués de l’esperon
Sont autant que leurs chevaulx
Jeunes amoureux nouveaulx.


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

Rondel
by Charles d’Orleans (1394-1465)
translator unknown

[To his Mistress, to succour his heart that is beleaguered by jealousy.] 

Strengthen, my Love, this castle of my heart, 
And with some store of pleasure give me aid, 
For Jealousy, with all them of his part, 
Strong siege about the weary tower has laid. 
Nay, if to break his bands thou art afraid, 
Too weak to make his cruel force depart, 
Strengthen at least this castle of my heart, 
And with some store of pleasure give me aid. 
Nay, let not Jealousy, for all his art 
Be master, and the tower in ruin laid, 
That still, ah Love! thy gracious rule obeyed. 
Advance, and give me succour of thy part; 
Strengthen, my Love, this castle of my heart.

Spring
by Charles d’Orleans (1394-1465)
translator unknown

The year has changed his mantle cold 
Of wind, of rain, of bitter air; 
And he goes clad in cloth of gold, 
Of laughing suns and season fair; 
No bird or beast of wood or wold 
But doth with cry or song declare 
The year lays down his mantle cold. 
All founts, all rivers, seaward rolled, 
The pleasant summer livery wear, 
With silver studs on broidered vair; 
The world puts off its raiment old, 
The year lays down his mantle cold.

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.

The following are links to other translations by Michael R. Burch. "Wulf and Eadwacer" may be the oldest extant poem in the English language written by a female poet. "Sweet Rose of Virtue" is a modern translation of a truly great poem by the early Scottish master William Dunbar. "How Long the Night" is one of the very best Anglo Saxon lyric poems. "Caedmon's Hymn" may be the oldest poem in the English language.

The Seafarer
Wulf and Eadwacer
The Love Song of Shu-Sin: The Earth's Oldest Love Poem?
Sweet Rose of Virtue
How Long the Night
Caedmon's Hymn
Anglo-Saxon Riddles and Kennings
Bede's Death Song
The Wife's Lament
Deor's Lament
Lament for the Makaris
Alexander Pushkin's tender, touching poem "I Love You" has been translated into English by Michael R. Burch.
Native American Poetry Translations
Tegner's Drapa
Whoso List to Hunt
Ancient Greek Epigrams and Epitaphs
Meleager
Sappho
Basho
Oriental Masters/Haiku
Miklós Radnóti
Rainer Maria Rilke
Marina Tsvetaeva
Renée Vivien
Ono no Komachi
Allama Iqbal
Bertolt Brecht
Ber Horvitz
Paul Celan
Primo Levi
Ahmad Faraz
Sandor Marai
Wladyslaw Szlengel
Saul Tchernichovsky
Robert Burns: Original Poems and Translations
The Seventh Romantic: Robert Burns
Free Love Poems by Michael R. Burch

If you want to learn more about the origins of English poetry, please check out English Poetic Roots: A Brief History of Rhyme.

For an expanded bio, circum vitae and career timeline of the translator, please click here: Michael R. Burch Expanded Bio.

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