Charles d'Orléans

Six Poems, translated by Geoffrey O'Brien

Trop long temps vous voi sommeillier

Too long I’ve seen you sleep, my heart,
in grief and pain.
Please wake today:
let’s to the wood and gather in the may
to keep the custom,
and hear the birds’ warbles
that set the woods echoing
on the first day of May.

The god of love always
holds a feast on this day
to delight loving hearts
that yearn to serve him.
So he decks trees in blossoms
and fields in gay green
to adorn the bright feast
on the first day of May.

I know, my heart,
how traitorous contempt
has made you suffer
and keeps you apart
from her you long for.
Try to enjoy: that’s the best I can advise
for easing of pain
on the first day of May.

Lady, my only memory,
in a hundred days there wouldn’t be time enough
to tell you the whole truth
about the sickness that is torturing my heart
on the first day of May.


Le premier jour du mois de mai

The first day of May
is generous to me.
Just as I now have
in my heart only grief and pain
he is likewise troubled,
full of wind and rain.
I’ve seen him so different
in the times I’ve known in my life.

Just as a friend should
he’s trying to match my feelings,
and that suits me well.
The luckless feel lighter
in their thoughts
when their trouble has company.
I found out for sure
in the times I’ve known in my life.

How sad: I’ve seen May joyous and gay
and so free with one and all
that I can’t tell the half
of the sport and pleasure
he had at his command.
Love in his temple
made him priest of his faithful
in the times I’ve known in my life.

Time goes by I don’t know how,
may God fix it soon.
For the joy is dead asleep
that once lived so light
in the times I’ve known in my life.


En la forest d’Ennuyeuse Tristesse

In the forest of deep grief
walking alone one day
I happened on the goddess of love
and she called to me, and asked where I was going.
I answered that by evil chance
I was long since exiled to these woods
and could truly call myself
the lost man who doesn’t know where he’s going.

Her smile was humble
as she answered, “Friend, if I knew
how you got in such trouble
I’d help any way I can. A while ago
I set your heart on the path for every pleasure,
I don’t know who lured you from it.
It hurts me to see you become
the lost man who doesn’t know where he’s going.”

“Alas,” I said, “sovereign princess,
you know my case, do I have to tell you?
Death did it, who is rough to everyone,
Death has taken from me her I loved
and who had everything I hoped for
and who guided me. Alive,
she lived with me so well that I was never
the lost man who doesn’t know where he’s going.

I’m blind, I don’t know where I should go.
With my stick, so I don’t trip,
I wander tapping out a path here and there.
Pity me then, that am thus forced to become
the lost man who doesn’t know where he’s going.”


Par les fenestres de mes yeux

Through the windows of my eyes
love’s heat once passed.
But now, growing old,
to keep the room
of my thoughts cool in summer,
I shut them tight
and let the heat of day go by
before I open them.

In rainy winter too
that raises winds and storms
love’s infectious air
tries often to barge inside,
till I’m forced to block each crack
it might reach my heart by.
I’ll wait for weather more clear and more clean
before I open them.

Henceforth in safe and sound places
I order my heart to stay put,
governed by the sage advice
of Doctor Detachment.
If love comes knocking at my doors,
wanting to get near my heart,
I’ll insist on collateral
before I open them.

Love, a while ago
you hit my heart without warning.
Since then I’ve built my battlements so strong
that you can’t get in
before I open them.


Se Dieu plaist briefment la nuée

If God wills it, soon
the cloud of my sadness will pass,
love loyally loved,
and the clear weather appear.
But do you know when?
When the sweet gracious sun
of your beauty shines in
through the windows of my eyes.

Then the room of my thoughts
will be bright with pleasure
and adorned with joy
and my heart will wake up
that has slept long in grief.
It will never sleep again so help me God
once this brightness strikes it
through the windows of my eyes.

But when will the day come
that this finally happens?
Lady I long for,
do you think it will come soon?
Because my heart will droop
in sorrow, never healing
until I see this
through the windows of my eyes.

My heart will be comforted
like none other under Heaven,
lady, when you look in
through the windows of my eyes.


Je fu en fleur ou temps passé d’enfance

I was in flower in vanished childhood days
until in youth I grew up to be fruit.
Then by my mistress Folly I was shaken,
green and unripe, down from the tree of Pleasure,
and hence have been, by Reason who at will,
by rights and by virtue of his infinite wisdom,
redresses all things without tort or misprision,
laid to ripen on jailhouse straw.

There I have had extended residence
without once breathing the air of freedom.
I’m fine with that and hold without doubt
it must be for the best, even if lying here
idle I wither and grow old,
and the spark in me of foolish desire
dies out, since I’ve been sidelined
and laid to ripen on jailhouse straw.

God give us peace, that’s all I ask for.
Then I’ll be refreshed in the waters of gladness,
and cleansed by French sunlight
of the must of sorrow.
Patiently enduring I wait for good weather
hoping for God to ordain my recuperation,
that being the end for which by His will
I was laid to ripen on jailhouse straw.

A winter fruit, I am not so soft
as fruit of summer, and thus in this storehouse
until my green stiffness shall turn more tender
I am laid to ripen on jailhouse straw.

CHARLES D'ORLÉANS (1394–1465), grandson of Charles V of France, became duke of Orléans in 1407 following his father’s murder by the Burgundian faction. He was taken prisoner at the battle of Agincourt in 1415 and remained a prisoner in England for the next 25 years, living comfortably at a series of castles but held captive in part because of his place in the line of French royal succession. During this period he wrote poetry prolifically, chiefly in the ballade and rondeau forms; a body of poetry in English has also been attributed to him. He was ransomed in 1440 and thereafter resided chiefly at Blois. His son reigned as Louis XII.

GEOFFREY O'BRIEN is the author of seven collections of poetry including Floating City (Talisman House, 1996), A View of Buildings and Water (Salt, 2002), Red Sky Café (Salt, 2005), Early Autumn (Salt, 2010), and most recently In a Mist (Shearsman, 2015). Among his other books are Dream Time: Chapters from the Sixties (1988), The Phantom Empire (1993), The Browser’s Ecstasy (2000), Sonata for Jukebox (2004), and Stolen Glimpses, Captive Shadows: Writing on Film 2002–2012 (2013).