Micheline's Blog

Charles d’Orléans: Portrait of an Unlikely Poet

Charles, Duc d’Orléans (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Charles d’Orléans

In a blog entitled “Valentine’s Day: Martyrs and Birds,” I mentioned Charles d’Orléans who helped spread Othon de Grandson‘s FR stories about St Valentine’s Day at the court of France. I put a link to information concerning Charles d’Orléans, as there was no time or space to tell his story.

Charles d’Orléans & the Battle of Agincourt (1415)

Charles d’Orléans (24 November 1394, Paris – 5 January 1465) is a fascinating and intriguing figure.  He became Duke of Orléans at the early age 13, when his father, Louis X, was assassinated by men acting on behalf of the Duke of Burgundy, the opposing faction.

Charles was wounded at the Battle of Agincourt (25 October 1415) and was taken prisoner by Sir Richard Waller. Because he was a “prince du sang,” literally a “prince of the blood,” i.e. a possible heir to the throne of France, the King of England, Henri V, did not want him to return to France. So Charles spent nearly 25 years ‘imprisoned’ in England.

Charles as Prisoner:  the Beginning of a Lasting Friendship

During his imprisonment, he was not behind bars, but housed quite comfortably in various castles.  One of these was Wallingford Castle, a castle that belonged to Sir Richard Waller who had captured him at the Battle of Agincourt, a key moment in the Hundred Years War (1337 to 1453).

Fortunately, a very sincere and long-lasting friendship grew between Sir Waller and the Duke, who, upon his release, was very generous to his friend and jailor. In fact, Sir Richard Waller added the fleur-de-lis to the Waller Coat of Arms. Moreover, Charles was a relatively free ‘prisoner,’ who frequently travelled to London, but never on his own. Yet, he was separated from his family and away from his native country for a very long time. Besides, he must have worried about the future. How could he tell whether or not he would one day return to France?

The Tower of London (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A poet is born

So Charles whiled away the years of his lengthy captivity writing poems and songs, which, I would suspect, helped him cope with his “longue attente,” to use his own words. It could be said, therefore, that he created for himself a “literary homeland,” and never left it. When he returned to France, he stayed at his castle in Blois and entertained poets. Therefore, I would also suspect our prisoner was rescued by art and that art was his true calling. Charles d’Orléans is an important figure in the history of French literature.

A Son & Future King

But his poems are not his only legacy. At the age of 46, he married Marie de Clèves who was 14 years old. She bore him three children, one of whom would be Louis XII, King of France. Charles was 68 when his son was born. He had turned to poetry, but he was a “prince du sang” (a Prince of the Blood; possible heir to the throne of France), and so was his son.

Charles reçoit l’hommage d’un vassal (click to enlarge)

Hella Haasse

Charles’ best-know poem is En la forêt de longue attente, translated in 1949, as Het Woud der Verwachting, Hella Haasse (2 February 1918 – 29 septembre 2011).  Hella Haasse’s translations of Charles d’Orléans poetry created a revival of Charles’s poetry in France. But Debussy had already set some of Charles’s poems to music he composed.

However, the following poem is the one that lingers in my mind

Le temps a laissé son manteau
De vent, de froidure et de pluie
Et s’est vêtu de broderie,
De soleil luisant, clair et beau.
 

The season removed its coat
Of wind, cold and rain,
And put on embroidery,
Gleaming sunshine, bright and beautiful.

 
Il n’y a bête ni oiseau,
Qu’en son jargon ne chante ou crie:
“Le temps a laissé son manteau!
De vent, de froidure et de pluie.”
 

There is neither animal nor bird
That doesn’t tell in it’s own tongue:
The season removed his coat
of wind, cold and rain

 
Rivière, fontaine et ruisseau
Portent en livrée jolie,
Gouttes d’argent, d’orfèvrerie,
Chacun s’habille de nouveau
Le temps a laissé son manteau.
 

Rivers, fountains and brooks
Wear, as handsome garments,
Silver drops of goldsmith’s work;
Everyone puts on new clothing:
The season removed his coat.

 

So the story of Charles d’Orléans is a story of survival. During his years of exile, he found a refuge in poetry, a “literary homeland.”

Consider his legacy. Yes, his son would be King of France, Louis XII. But I am thinking of his poems and songs. Charles d’Orleans died five hundred years ago, but Charles d’Orléans also lives and he is linked to the lore of St Valentine’s Day.

 
(please click on the titles to hear the music)    
Charles d’Orléans: “Le temps a laissé son manteau,” Michel Polnareff
 
poet: Charles d’Orléans
piece:  “Le temps a laissé son manteau” 
performer: Ernst van Altena
 
© Micheline Walker
17 February 2012
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