France, Mère Des Arts, Des Armes Et Des Loix



THE first poem in this book was written in France some time in the twelfth century; it dates, therefore, from the epoch when French lyric poetry may fairly be said to begin. It is true that the song of Sainte Eulalie, which is older by two centuries, is lyrical in form; but it is composed in the old, uncouth lingua romana; the dry bones, as it were, of Latin, which afterwards became quickened to new and wonderful life in French, Italian, and Spanish. An Englishman who glanced casually at the Song of Eulalie would imagine it to be written in a mixture of Dutch and Italian, and it has more interest for the archaeologist in language than for the lover of poetry.

The Chansons de Geste, dreary and monotonous enough to our impatient modern sense, yet often redeemed by a sudden note of rugged pathos, as when Berthe aux grands pieds is lost in the woods, or the Belle Aude dies of grief at the feet of Charlemagne, drag their slow length along through the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Their language, so full of the rough gutturals of the North, must have been the despair of the would-be lyric poet; but farther South, where the sun was kind and life more gay and leisured, the lingua romana developed rapidly, and Provence probably had a flourishing school of poetry before the singers of Picardy and Champagne had learnt their art. The elaborate and chivalrous etiquette of Provençal society was reflected faithfully in the songs of the troubadours; it was a peculiarly artificial civilization with oddly candid immoralities, and in its poems there is often a comic contrast between the subtlety of the form and the naïveté of the subject.

Provence, in the twelfth century, may be defined as a state that flourished under the benevolent tyranny of a great number of queens. Women, for perhaps the first time in history, were supreme, though their supremacy certainly differed from that so fiercely desired by our modern self-emancipators. It is not surprising to find that the early lyrics of the North of France adopt for the most part the same immortal theme. The Chansons de Toile -- they were called this because women sang them over their tapestry -- are admirable little pictures of some troubled, or doubtful, or happy moment in the life of a lady who is a lover. The fair Erembors is suspected of faithlessness by Count Renaud, but convinces him (very easily) of the contrary; and the fair Doette hears the news of the death of Count Doon, and becomes a nun at Saint-Pol. The language of these little sewing-songs is, of course, still the language of the Chansons de Geste, but the skill with which the dialogue is presented, the few words that give the scene, and the haunting refrain, combine to endow them with a charm for which we shall sigh in vain when the Strephons and Chloes of riming Abbés and court Anacreons strut through their self-conscious idylls. The original genre does not appear to have survived the twelfth century, but it was revived later on in a more elaborate form by a poet of Arras called Audefroi le Bâtard.1 Various other kinds of lyric poetry begin to appear at the end of the twelfth century, motets, serventois, pastourelles, rotrouenges, rondeaux, lais, ballettes, and virelais. It is from these rather complicated forms of verse that the ballades and rondeaux of Villon and Marot are descended.

When exactly the poetry of the troubadours first began to influence the North of France is a vexed question; probably it was about the time when Richard Coeur de Lyon was lying in a German prison and Bertran de Born riding to battle at the head of the lords of Aquitaine. The Courts of the North were visited by the troubadours; those of Eleanor of Poitiers, wife of our Henry II, and of her daughter Marie of Champagne, became famous for their refinement; and early in the thirteenth century the singers of Champagne and Picardy began to use the most characteristic forms of Provençal verse: the tençon, an argument between two poets; the alba and the serena, sung at dawn and at evening beneath the window of the beloved; and the chanson, a form governed by highly complicated rules. Chrétien de Troies, Tibaut de Champagne, Gace Brulé, Conon de Béthune, -- these are some of the writers whose songs keep for us a faint fragrance of those far-off, passionate days, and are relics of the `early sweetness' that Pater found in Aucassin et Nicolete.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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