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Chaucer and the Poems of "Ch": Introduction


1 Ardis Butterfield discusses the cultural dominance of French and its influence on Chaucer and his contemporaries, ultimately positing that "Chaucer not only drew deeply from French writing, he also participated in a broad literary culture across medieval Europe that was shaped and inspired by writers in French. From the medieval point of view, Chaucer is part of the history of French culture, rather than French culture being part of the history of Chaucer" ("Chaucer's French Inheritance," p. 21).

2 The Middle French formes fixes were dominated by the principle of parallelism in sound, consisting of "stanzas of set length, mostly uniform line lengths and caesura, complex rhyme schemes with the same rhyme sounds used throughout the poem, and refrains of one or more lines for each stanza" (Wimsatt, Chaucer and His French Contemporaries, p. 12).

3 Chaucer's earliest documented service was under Elizabeth de Burgh, countess of Ulster and wife of Edward III's son Lionel, between 1356 and 1359. The first recorded reference to him as a member of the royal household is on June 20, 1367. The gap between these known dates may reflect Chaucer's absence from English courts, perhaps to be at university (Bennett, Chaucer at Oxford and at Cambridge, pp. 58–87). For more information about Chaucer's early career, see Crow and Leland, "Chaucer's Life," pp. xv–xxvi, and Brewer, Chaucer and His World, pp. 46–74.

4 Poiron, Le Poète et le prince. "Machaut Tradition" is Poirion's inclusive characterization of the "lyrisme courtois" of the time.

5 Le Mote served as a poet in Guillaume of Hainault's court, where Edward III met his future wife, Guillaume's daughter Philippa, before belonging to Edward's English court.

6 According to Deschamps, the sophistication of "Natural Music" distinguishes it from the "Artificial Music" produced by sung vocals or musical instruments (Art de dictier).

7 Barber, Brown, and Munby, Edward III's Round Table at Windsor.

8 These literary groups were known for their piety, most frequently dedicating the work produced during their festive competitions to the Virgin Mary. For more information on this phenomenon see Newcomer, "Puy at Rouen"; Martin Stevens, "Traditional History of the Rhyme Royale Stanza"; Moss, "Rouen Puy d'amour"; and Wimsatt, Chaucer and His French Contemporaries, pp. 274–86.

9 The elected leader of the group was called the prince. Each puy meeting included songs composed and performed by members of the group, and members who contributed a new song at a meeting did not have to pay the twelve-pence dues. It was up to the prince to judge these new songs, "crowning" the best poem. See Fisher, John Gower, pp. 77–85. The Liber Custumarum records the regulations and functions of the London puy as follows:
And whereas the royal feast of the Pui is maintained and established principally for crowning of a royal song, inasmuch as it is by song that it is honoured and enhanced, all the gentle companions of the Pui by right reason are bound to exalt royal songs to the utmost of their power, and especially the one that is crowned by the assent of the companions upon the day of the great feast of the Pui . . . And although the becoming pleasance of virtuous ladies is a rightful theme and principal occasion for royal singing, and for composing and furnishing royal songs, nevertheless it is hereby provided that no lady or other woman ought to be at the great sitting of the Pui, for the reason that the members ought hereby to take example, and rightful warning, to honour, cherish and commend all ladies, at all times, in all places, as much in their absence as in their presence (Riley, Monumenta Gildhallae Londoniensis, vol. 2, part 2, pp. 580–90).
10 Traditionally considered Chaucer's most "French" work, the borrowings apparent in The Book of the Duchess exemplify the extent to which "Chaucer's compositional choices are not being made merely in reaction to Machaut or Froissart or Guillaume de Lorris, they are choices made in parallel with them and born out of a similar cultural standpoint" (Butterfield, "Chaucer's French Inheritance," p. 27).

In England, from the time of William the Conqueror into Chaucer's age, the main language of rule and of London court culture was French. The mature Chaucer helped to change the standard to English, but the literary modes he naturalized were in many ways an anglicization of the French tradition he knew well. The evidence is strong that Chaucer early mastered the French language, a tongue common in London in the mercantile and political circles in which his father moved. Geoffrey's subsequent service at court, beginning at the age of fourteen, was in a cultivated, predominately French environment.1 As a young courtier, he was expected — in the fashion of the Squire of Canterbury pilgrimage — to master the genteel graces: horsemanship, jousting, dancing, painting, polite conversation with the ladies, and composition and performance of poetry. Young Chaucer was a courtier-lover not only by convention but in practice, for he married Philippa, daughter of Sir Paon de Roet, from French-speaking Hainault. Philippa's name often appears in court documents along with Chaucer's own.

The verse that Chaucer heard and was led to compose at this time must have been French, for that was the language that the court and Philippa knew, and it was the language of the chief literature of England following the Norman Conquest through much of the Middle Ages. The diversity of Chaucer's English oeuvre shows, of course, that he could have written in French on almost any contemporary subject in any form, including prose. But what the young courtiers in his position at mid-century were expected to compose were lyrics in the fixed forms; thus, Arcite in The Knight's Tale (I[A]1510–12) sings a rondeau to Emily, Aurelius in The Franklin's Tale (V[F]945–50) makes "layes, / Songes, compleintes, roundels, virelayes" to Dorigen, and Damian in The Merchant's Tale (IV[E]1881) writes a letter to May "in manere of a compleynt or a lay." While the mature Chaucer busily adapted Continental genres and subjects to the English language, the youthful Chaucer's first essays at court were no doubt composed in French. The conventions of the dominant fixed forms were all oriented to the French language, and a court audience in London in the 1350s hardly would have appreciated, or perhaps even understood, English verse.

The French language probably predominated in the numerous "balades, roundels, and virelayes" attributed to Chaucer in the Prologue to the Legend of Good Women (F.421–22). His English contemporary, John Gower, wrote two cycles of balades in French. It is not surprising that no texts of French poems identified as Chaucer's, and only a few of his lyrics in English, have survived. As occasional, conventional pieces, they would have been more ephemeral than his later, more original work, and thus more likely to perish. At the same time, his posited French lyrics may not have been entirely lost, for numerous anonymous French texts survive in manuscripts from the time, of which some could well be of his composition. On several counts, one particular collection of French lyrics made in France in the late fourteenth century, University of Pennsylvania Manuscript 15 (hereafter "Penn"), is the most likely repository of Chaucer's French poems. It is the largest manuscript anthology extant of fourteenth- century French lyrics in the formes fixes (balade, rondeaux, virelay, lay, and five-stanza chanson),2 with by far the largest number of works of unknown authorship. The known authors represented in the manuscript and the texts themselves have notable associations with England and with Chaucer. And intriguingly there are fifteen lyrics each headed by the initials "Ch," very likely indications of authorship, neatly inserted between rubric and text. Metrics and subject matter suggest that the "Ch" poems were composed around 1360, the time of Chaucer's early court service.3

Chaucer's schooling in the French lyric genres provided essential elements for his subsequent development as a poet. While his was an eclectic genius and drew inspiration from virtually all of literature then current, the forme fixe lyric was the mode of his poetic masters and his peers at court throughout his youth. The Penn manuscript, being the richest extant collection of the French lyrics and having multiple associations with the royal courts of England, is quite relevant to Chaucer's poetic career. The relevance is manifest especially in his shorter works, the dream poems, Troilus and Criseyde, and the Legend of Good Women. I will suggest some of the important specific associations in the following analysis of the "Ch" poems as they look forward to Chaucer's work. Before that, however, I want to reconstruct the process of compilation of Penn and survey its contents. The manuscript provides a direct entrée to social, historical, and literary aspects of the poetic world in the London courts in the mid-fourteenth century when Chaucer first came on the scene.

Of the more than 160 texts of unknown authorship in Penn, a substantial number that have important literary values could be Chaucer's. They include skillful love lyrics, both serious and humorous, tours de force of versification, balades which interestingly respond to other works in the manuscript, topical and dramatic lyrics, and so on. Among the best are those headed by "Ch." These rubrics, together with other substantial manuscript evidence and the intrinsic worth of the poems, make them easily the best candidates among extant French lyrics for Chaucer's authorship, appropriate representatives of his French work. The subsequent analysis of the Penn manuscript, focusing particularly on the "Ch" poems and their potential associations with Chaucer, serves in introducing them.

The 310 poems included in Penn were virtually all composed between 1330 and 1400. The manuscript does not present the poets' names, but we do know the authors of many of the lyrics from other sources. Almost all of the identified works were composed by authors with whom Chaucer was familiar, most notably Guillaume de Machaut, Oton de Granson, and Eustache Deschamps. Machaut dominates with 107 works concentrated in the center of the collection, twenty-seven poems and perhaps more are by Granson, and eight have been attributed to Deschamps. Jean Froissart, who served the Queen Philippa in England throughout the 1360s, may have personally preserved the pastourelle section of fifteen poems that opens the collection; his own pastourelles are the best known of the type that survive from the time, and the Penn examples come from his home territory. Chaucer also drew on works of two other poets represented, Nicole de Margival and Jean de le Mote. The most likely anthologist of the collection was Oton de Granson, while an evident model for the "Ch" works themselves was Jean de le Mote. Before discussing le Mote's role, I will reconstruct Granson's hypothetical assembling of the poems and Chaucer's possible association with the process. The manuscript itself provides solid indications to guide us.

Written down around 1395, Penn must have been collected in the immediately preceding decades. At the top of the first leaf, written in a separate hand, is the motto of the Kingdom of Bavaria, "Droit et ferme," strongly suggesting a connection with Isabel of Bavaria, whom Charles VI married in 1395. Since two Granson poems found in Penn have acrostics on "Isabel," and were probably written for Queen Isabel, it is entirely likely that the book belonging to her which is identified in a record as "le livre des Balades Messire Othes de Granson" is the Penn manuscript. On the basis of our knowledge of Oton de Granson's career and the contents of Penn, we may further speculate that the manuscript was planned by him and that he had it made for Isabel.

As a warrior-knight of Savoy, Granson first served the Green Count, Amadée VI, a devotee of the French lyric who would have encouraged the early poetic efforts of his courtier. Oton went to England around 1369, perhaps accompanying back to England the same wedding procession that Jean Froissart had followed to Milan from London. Though Froissart had served Queen Philippa in England through the 1360s, he was not to return to England with the company, going on to Brussels instead. In a sense Granson took Froissart's place as French poet at the English court, though he was an entirely different sort of person from the chronicler, very much the professional knight, and as a poet an amateur. He was to stay in England until 1396, with long periods of absence on military campaigns in Spain and elsewhere, and on diplomatic and personal business in France and Savoy. As with Chaucer and Froissart, Chaucer and Granson made use of each other's work. In a poem now known as the "Complaint of Venus," Chaucer translated into English a series of Granson's balades, lauding him as the "flour of hem that make in Fraunce" (1ine 82), that is, the best of the knight-poets. Together the two originated the poetic celebrations of St. Valentine's Day. For his longer poems especially, Granson drew major inspiration from Chaucer. While Chaucer could well have known personally all of the major French court poets of his time, his dearest friend among them doubtless was Granson.

In the corpus of Middle French poetry, Granson's poems are among the most faithful to the manner and substance of Machaut's poetry, which together with the Romance de la Rose also provided the most obvious influence on Chaucer's early English works. The Green Count, Oton's overlord, commissioned a complete collection of Machaut's works, and copies Oton had made from such a manuscript before he left Savoy may have provided the Machaut poems for Penn. At the same time, he could have found the texts of Machaut in England since the great poet-composer's works had been disseminated there at least from the early 1360s. In those years, Machaut's prime patrons, the French royal family, were represented in London by King Jean II as unconfined prisoner, together with his sons, the dukes of Berry and Burgundy, as hostages, and their extensive retinues. Lyrics of Machaut dominate the center of Penn. Other sets of poems that Granson might have had in his personal collection, gathered in England and in his travels, include the pastourelle group perhaps brought across the Channel by Froissart; a balade exchange between Philippe de Vitry and Jean de le Mote; a group of poems filled with more or less obscure classical reference characteristic of le Mote's late work; a number of works, mostly balades, which had achieved some currency and would later appear in text collections like Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS naf. 6221, and Westminster Abbey 21; still another set of current lyric texts set elsewhere to music, including three balades of a southern poet nicknamed Grimace, at least one poem of Nicole de Margival, and a substantial number of anonymous virelays and eight-line rondeaux, and the ten balades, four chants royaux, and single rondeau identified by Gothic initials "Ch" carefully inserted later above the texts by the same or another scribe.

After 1386 when his father died, Granson spent more of his time on the Continent. In those years he perhaps carried his collection of formes fixes lyrics with him and gave a large selection of them to a scribe with instructions for making a book for Queen Isabel. Toward the beginning of the manuscript, almost directly after the introductory pastourelles, he presented certain of his own works, which he interspersed with some texts of other poets, and then followed with the works from Machaut's anthology of lyrics not set to music, the Louange des dames. In the second third of the collection, he placed many works of Machaut that elsewhere have musical settings, and inserted among them rondeaux, virelays, and balades by other poets that also had been set to music. In the final third, lyrics not designed for music predominate: a second set of Granson poems is intertwined with the works of "Ch" and three Machaut balades. Increasingly toward the end, and especially after the last "Ch" poem (number 276), lyrics that Granson probably did not find in England appear. The form and content of these being in the later Granson manner, they could have been composed in France by Granson and court friends, lesser-known poets of modest talent.

In the end, however, the hundred folios of the codex were not filled, the last eight being left blank. Indeed, work on the last pages on the manuscript may have been interrupted when Granson was tragically killed in a duel in Savoy in 1397. Penn could have been a gift made posthumously to Queen Isabel. The scenario is consonant with the romantic legacy of the man. Froissart speaks of Oton as a "riche homme durement," and Christine de Pisan, his ardent encomiast, celebrates him as "courtois, gentil, preux, bel et gracieux," and one who was devoted to the service of ladies. In the 1390s he became one of the four evangelists of Philippe de Mézieres' Order of the Passion, promoting a new crusade. And when he died defending his honor in judicial combat, Granson was well over fifty.

How did the "Ch" initials come to be in the manuscript? It is obvious that they were inserted after the poems were copied, but the lettering is very much like that of the rubrics and text except that it is somewhat larger and made with special care. The scribe of the manuscript or another could have put them in at the behest of someone closely associated with the making of the book. For what purpose? They do not seem to mark lyric type in any way; only four of the works are chants royaux, and all of the lyrics in the manuscript are in some sense chansons. In all probability the letters indicate authorship. Yet the poems are too early for Christine de Pisan and much too early for Charles d'Orléans, and not at all in their styles; and neither style nor content seem at all suitable for a royal Charles or a nobleman-poet identified cryptically. In fact, the style is more characteristic of Jean de le Mote, whose major works preceded those of Machaut. In their long stanzas, plentiful use of personification, and numerous references to characters of myth and literature, the "Ch" poems appear to be allied with a "le Mote tradition," established before what Daniel Poirion has labeled the "Machaut tradition" became predominant.4

Only after Jean le Bon was captured at Poitiers in 1356 was the full influence of the tradition as developed by Machaut felt in England. But even before Machaut, le Mote had become a seminal force in the forme fixe mode; moreover, he seems to have been a major presence in the English court into mid-century.5 Poetry such as his helped prepare for the French cultural invasion of England by King Jean. Still earlier, the nascent formes fixes had become established in the courts of both countries. The dominant lyric form of the earlier centuries, the chanson, was largely replaced by the balade, rondeau, and virelay. These had originated as dance songs and had prominent refrains. Owing in part to such origins, French love poetry retained its musical nature even without notation. While the lyrics were often set to music, it was not because of the notation, but rather on account of the elaborate phonetic patterns of the words that Eustache Deschamps identified the poetry as "Natural Music."6 With its lines of fixed syllable count, set caesura, and complex rhyme schemes, the verse contrasts sharply with the lyrics in English which predominated before 1350. The native verse line typically had an alliterative-accentual form. Chaucer exerted the major influence in transforming the English poetic mode. After becoming imbued at the London courts with the French poetry, he fathered the new English verse which incorporated major aspects of the versification and the substance of the French tradition.

England was an important site in the development of the Middle French formes fixes. From the 1330s through the 1350s the English monarch Edward III was vigorous and highly successful in war. His was not a grim reign. He had a beloved queen and a court full of proud knights and ladies whom he diverted with a constant succession of tournaments and games. Policy as well as vanity encouraged Edward to present himself as a new King Arthur; he even constructed a Round Table at Windsor Castle, which, though never completed in the grand style in which it was conceived, was supposed to seat three hundred knights and, as evidenced by recent excavations, might have served in 1348 when he founded the Order of the Garter. Most certainly young Chaucer would have been around for the king's celebrated renewal of the Round Table after the Battle of Poitiers in 1358.7 Such celebrations featured abundant court music, which with its lyrics would have been mainly French.

If he was lucky, Geoffrey Chaucer was at Windsor for the 1358 celebration. He had begun his service two years before at the height of the king's career. The poet Jean de le Mote perhaps was there too; in any event, his influence on the verse was still strong. Le Mote's native country of Hainault was also Queen Philippa's homeland and a frequent destination of King Edward's political and military travels. Important relationships of the English with literary men from the area were a natural consequence. While Froissart is the best known of the Hainuyer poets to come to England, le Mote was associated with Edward's court decades before Froissart. He made crucial contributions to the development of the mode, notably the balade form, and exerted specific influence on Machaut and Chaucer.

Since there is a record that le Mote was at work in the chancellery of Hainault in 1327, it is likely that Edward III first met the poet when at age fifteen he and his mother visited Count William. At that time Edward became betrothed to Philippa; according to Froissart he chose her for love among the four daughters of the count. Even though political considerations would have been primary in the match, genuine romantic love is entirely probable. The ages of Edward and Philippa seem ideal for a medieval courtship; he was of an ardent and chivalrous disposition, and she was an estimable court lady, always much admired. He might well have composed love poetry for her in the formes fixes, or had some poet like le Mote write it for him. The evidence of Edward's cultural sophistication and his patronage of the arts is substantial, though it has sometimes been ignored. His taste for poetry and music were developed in large part through his mother and his wife, both of whom were closely related to French royalty and grew up in courts where the arts were notably patronized and practiced. From the beginning of Edward III's reign (1327–77), his court provided a home to men of letters, poets, and entertainers. Le Mote seems to have been to a degree all three. Records of 1327, 1338, and 1343 connect him directly with the king, and in 1339 he composed for Queen Philippa a long elegy on the death of her father, Li Regret Guillaume. We know that he was in England in the late 1340s when he responded in verse to an abusive balade by the prominent Philippe de Vitry. This is the balade exchange mentioned earlier as part of the Penn manuscript. If le Mote lived on to 1356, he may well have been the first prominent court poet that young Geoffrey Chaucer met.

Like Machaut, le Mote was both musician and poet. In sharp contrast to Machaut's oeuvre, which is preserved in a number of complete manuscripts, only part of le Mote's poetry and none of his music has survived. But enough of it remains to suggest what he might have taught the author of the "Ch" poems — who, if not Chaucer himself, may well have been one of Geoffrey's fellow courtiers in Edward III's England. Le Mote's surviving lyrics include representative balades from three definable stages in the form's development. The balade was the primary lyric genre of the century. It always consisted of three stanzas with repeated rhymes and refrain, but aside from these fixed features, it was not a static form, and through the first half of the century balade length and complexity tended to increase. In its beginning, the balade had short lines and short stanzas, often of six lines; subsequently, stanzas of seven and eight lines came to favor, most familiar in Machaut's practice; and at mid-century even lengthier units of nine and more decasyllabic lines became common. The increasing length allowed for more substantial content and more elaborate development. The shorter balades had tended to be simple poems of praise or petition to the beloved lady, utilizing conventional language of love service, but the longer poems employed a more complex rhetoric.

Le Mote seems to have led the development of the balade form, making use of two primary rhetorical devices to expand them: prosopopoeia and literary exemplum. For his use of personification allegories and references to stories of classical, biblical, and medieval myth, the Roman de la Rose was an important model. In Li Regret Guillaume, the elegy for Queen Philippa's father, each of thirty balades is a lament spoken by a personified aspect of the dead count — Humelité, Proecce, Largece, Hardemens — which contributes to the development of an encompassing allegory. Twenty-eight lengthy literary exempla accompany the balades in Li Regret, but it was only in his later works composed in England that le Mote came to incorporate extensive literary reference in the balades themselves. Presented together with authentic classical references were pseudo-classical narratives that he fabricated, which excited the scorn of the famed Philippe de Vitry in France. Philippe made Jean his target in a derisive balade which survives with Jean's response in two manuscript texts, the better presented in Penn (poems 62 and 63 of Part III). The attack was both political and aesthetic. Vitry held against Jean both his service to the king in England, which he characterizes as traitorous, and his free, often inauthentic literary references. I quote the third, concluding stanza in which he assails Jean's use of strange names in "cursed Albion" (i.e., England):
Certes, Jehan, la fons Ciree
Ne te congnoit, ne li lieux vers
Ou maint la vois Caliopee.
Car amoureus diz fais couvers
De nons divers.
Dont aucuns enfes scet user
Com tu, qui ne vaulz une mite
A Pegasus faire voler,
En Albion de Deus maldit.

[Indeed, Jean, the fountain of Cirrha does not know you, nor the green place where Calliope's voice is heard. For you make amorous poems filled with strange names. Now any child could compose like you, who are completely unable to make Pegasus fly in Albion cursed by God.]
Vitry's "fons Cirree" is the Hippocrene, the fountain of the Muses, which Pegasus created with his hoof when he first took flight. Jean's imputed inability to make Pegasus fly signifies his lack of poetic power, which Philippe finds particularly notable in the inappropriate names that fill his work, deformations implicitly associated with his service of hated England.

In the first stanza of his response, Jean is conciliatory. He celebrates Philippe's power as musician and poet, but defends his own service to Edward III by noting that (as a native of Hainault) he is no Frenchman, therefore no traitor to France. Whereas Philippe had confined his poem within stanzas of nine octosyllabic lines, Jean uses a more extended unit of ten decasyllabic lines:


O Victriens, mondains dieu d'armonie,
Filz Musicans et per a Orpheus,
Supernasor de la fontaine Helye,
Doctores vrays, en ce pratique Anglus,
Plus clers véans et plus agus qu'Argus,
Angles [en chant], cesse en toy le lyon!
Ne fais de moy Hugo s'en Albion
Suis. Onques n'oy ailleurs [vent] ne volee.
Ne je ne sui point de la nacion
De terre en Grec Gaulle de Dieu amee.

[O man of Vitry, worldly god of harmony, son of Music and peer of Orpheus, greater Naso of the fountain of Helicon, true doctor, Aulus Gellius in this practice, more clear-sighted and more acute than Argus, angel in song, restrain the lion in you. Do not make a Hugo (criminal) of me because I am in Albion. I never found inspiration or flight elsewhere. And I am not at all a citizen of the land the Greeks call Gaul, loved by God.]
Jean indeed fills the stanza with names, but he is careful in this poem to make the references clear. It is interesting that Deschamps later uses much the same references in his balade in praise of Chaucer. "Helye" is the fountain of Helicon, "Anglus" is Aulus Gellius, a classical model of behavior, "Hugo" is another literary target of Philippe. He also responds to Philippe's abusive reference to England with placating praise of France "loved by God." He goes on to claim that the names he has used in his poetry would serve well anywhere, and that indeed seems true in this work.

Three of Jean's other balades that survive, however, are replete with obscure allusions and show that Vitry's complaints had some basis. A friend of Petrarch, Philippe had the humanist's reverence for classical authority, which according to his sensibility should not be trifled with. But le Mote had a less reverent, more thoroughly medieval, attitude toward the old authors, willingly seeking an effect of novelty and mystery from freewheeling creation of spurious stories. Later poets in the century followed Jean's lead; he evidently inspired the pseudo-classical narratives of the later Hainuyer poet, Jean Froissart, and probably showed the way for some of Chaucer's puzzling references and stories. The opening stanza of one of the balades suffices to show how le Mote deceptively mixed new names and stories with the well-established. Thus, we recognize some names and narrative motifs, but in the main the allusions are mystifying, which seems the effect that le Mote wanted:
Cupido, qui mist Dyane et Jespee
Ou grief palagre en mer comme divesses,
Après ce que chascune fut trouvee
Lez Clopheüs sacrifiant ses messes,
Quant lapider le fist par Oleüs.
Sur hault mer, helas! Que de nuisanches!
Et nonpourquant vers moy n'orent pesanches
Ne tant com j'ay n'orent ains fais horribles
Delf, Orius, Narcissus, ne Constanches,
Crius, Pias, Lilions, ne Curibles.

[Cupid, who harshly turned Dyane and Jespee into sea goddesses, after each of them was found alongside Clopheüs, whom he had stoned by Eolus. On the high sea, alas! What troubles! And, notwithstanding, in comparison with me they did not have woes; they did not ever have horrible experiences like mine — neither Delf, Orius, Narcissus, Constance, nor Crius, Pias, Lilions, Curibles.]
No known authority exists for the story or most of the names. The sense seems to be that Cupid made two women named Dyane and Jespee into sea goddesses after he found them with an idolater named Clopheus, whom he had stoned by Eolus. "What troubles!" exclaims the lover-narrator; yet, he continues, their troubles were as nothing compared to his own horrible sufferings, nor were those of the eight characters named in the two-line refrain, mainly unidentifiable, equal to his.

The ten "Ch" balades and four chants royaux employ stanza forms related to those that le Mote used in his later balades; indeed, nine "Ch" poems have ten-line units with rhyme schemes like le Mote's response to de Vitry. The point is significant, since, while such forms became popular later in the century, le Mote's compositions evidently provided the chief models for them in the earlier years when the "Ch" poems were composed. We may also see Jean's influence in the multitude of references to classical and medieval stories that the "Ch" poet employs as a primary device to develop six of his poems (V–VIII, X–XI); and also see the effect of Jean's methods in the personifications and development of brief allegories that is a major feature of nine of the poems (I–IV, IX, XI–XII, XIV–XV). Both the form and the content of the works, then, suggest the unmediated influence of le Mote.

The foregoing discussion of the Penn manuscript has particularly highlighted evidence which potentially connects the Penn manuscript and the "Ch" poems to Chaucer. The evidence is circumstantial but relatively strong. While nothing rules out Chaucer's composition of numerous other anonymous lyrics in the manuscript, no other set of them has the coherence or consistent interest of the "Ch" lyrics. Their quality, together with the intriguing initials, makes Chaucer's authorship a lively possibility. From the standpoint of external evidence, it is significant that no other suggested hypothesis for the meaning of the initials seems viable; as discussed before, the letters evidently do not indicate a formal feature, nor does a known figure other than Chaucer seem likely. Furthermore, the potential associations of the Penn collection with England are notable: the relationships to Froissart of the pastourelle section which opens the manuscript, the prominent place which the Granson poems have in the manuscript, and Penn's associations with le Mote, particularly suggested by its inclusion of the balade exchange in which he participated, along with other poems which suggest his authorship or influence. Taken together, these indications make an English provenance for the collection (if not the inscribing of it) quite possible, even likely. In addition, the evidence of versification, subject matter, and the rhetorical devices used for development accords with a thesis that Chaucer could have composed the "Ch" poems in the early years of his court service. It is quite pertinent to the English author, then, to investigate the nature and literary value of these French poems severally and as a group, along with their relationships to Chaucer's known work.

The lyric mode of the formes fixes, that of the court to which the "Ch" poet clearly belonged, developed in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century. Being highly artificial, as well as artful, it confined form and substance within narrow bounds. While the mode grew out of the Old French trouvère tradition, the flexible metrical forms of the trouvères gave way to the more rigid versification of the set forms of balade, lay, virelay, rondeau, and chant royal with related five-stanza forms. Three hundred of the 310 poems in the Penn manuscript are in these forms. Along with the strict metrical requirements, the subjects and methods of developing them were also relatively rigid. From the outset, the great subject increasingly was noble love, though politics, morality, and Christianity also provided materials. Each poem consisted of a little essay or drama on its subject, usually elaborated by standard devices of medieval rhetoric.

The "Ch" poems are interesting, variable, and at the same time typical, examples of the fourteenth-century French lyric mode. In accord with the type, they are love poems, and their language and imagery are at once conventional and creative. Striving for grace and sonorousness rather than striking originality, the poets worked to mirror in brief stories or essays the ideals and aspirations of their court society, holding them up for the court audience's analysis and consideration. The audience's response, educated and conditioned as it was by repetition of the same forms, subjects, and treatments, was inevitably intellectualized. Having been exposed to numerous lovers' last testaments or ladies' laments over traitorous lovers, the auditors would not be moved to tears; attention to technique and ironic detachment were bound to control their reactions. They were thus freed for impersonal admiration and criticism of the ideal as embodied in the words: sincere admiration of virtues such as patience, devotion, and fidelity inherent in the ideal; amused criticism at the same time of often humorous simplicity, credulousness, and shallowness entailed in the lovers' discussion of such virtues. Contributing to the admiration would be the evidence of the poet's virtuosity and control in handling the complex forms smoothly without awkwardness. Contributing to the irony would be the potential discrepancy between the statements of the poems and the possible underlying intent; at various levels beneath the always decorous diction one might infer illicit passion, immoral design, and immoderate behavior.

The young courtier-poet whom we might simply call "Ch" — possibly but not certainly Chaucer — did not need to find a real-life object of his or her affections in order to compose poems for the English or French royal courts, which he (or she) probably presented orally and informally to a varied court audience. The audience did not concern itself unduly with the personal subjects of the poems, with hidden or tacit references to court figures. All the courtiers were by definition servants of love, and works of the same writer commonly featured both lovers and ladies as speakers. Nor did the auditors look to the poets for formal or thematic novelty. In the main their interest was in the inventive handling of the given form and material, and in the tact with which the ideals were presented. With such expectations in mind, we may consider the "Ch" poems themselves.

Except for one balade with eight-line stanzas (Poem XIV) and the rondeau (Poem X), the stanzas of the "Ch" works are longer than those that were commonly set to music in the fourteenth century, leading one to assume that the poet was not a musical composer. The great composer Machaut did not use stanzas longer than eight decasyllabic lines for his balades, even for those not set to music; at the same time, the later writers who were not musicians — Froissart, Granson, Deschamps — employed the long stanzas regularly, as Chaucer did in a few of his stanzaic works such as Anelida and Arcite. That the content of the "Ch" poems is relatively complex likewise suggests that they were not as suitable for musical accompaniment as the less-extended pieces. Despite their complexity, however, the works are phonetically graceful, good examples of natural music, that is, of carefully patterned verbal sound.

With their high degree of conventionality, the customary manner of presenting the lyrics orally would have been quite stylized; gesture and intonation, when employed, were most likely artful and exaggerated. Obviously, the stylization would in large part efface both the age and gender of the poet-speaker, who as performer would have been free to assume any convenient age, sex, or stance. The "Ch" poet is particularly flexible in assuming dramatic personas, taking on the various characters of aspiring, hopeless, successful, and bereft lover, rejected lady, three daughters of Phoebus, spokesman for lovers, sympathetic friend of a dead and of a dying lover, and wise commentator on love. Such narrative virtuosity suggests the talent and literary aspiration of a natural poet, no mere dilettante.

The speaker's character once fixed, "Ch" had limited latitude in the statements that the lyric would make, the general outlines being largely predictable. In the balades this statement is often epitomized in the refrains that conclude each stanza. Some of the "Ch" refrains are quite vivid and dramatic, as with the despairing lady's cry, "Young, you loved me, and old, you have cast me off" (Poem V), or the moan of the lover in his purgatory of desire, "I melt and burn like wax does in the fire" (Poem II). Other refrains function as simple recapitulations, as with the prayer of the friend who attends on the lover's bier, "May God have mercy on his soul" (Poem XII); and the successful lover's warm invocation, "Grace be to my lady and praise to love" (Poem XIV).

The refrain naturally divides the balade into a three-part rhetorical structure, and "Ch" made effective use of the division. The lover who melts like wax spends the first stanza describing his suffering, the second fixing the source of the suffering, and the third asserting the lady's obduracy in the face of his loyal service (Poem II). He thus focuses in easy progression on himself, then on the lady, and finally on their relationship to each other. In a similar neat progression the rejected lady begins by talking about her present state, "alone, lost, deprived of all good things" (Poem V, line 6); in the second stanza she recalls her once-happy life of love; and in the third she reproaches Venus for having led her into a secret love and to her ruin. The poem thus moves from the lady's present situation, to her past happiness, and at length to a slightly veiled moral commentary on the fact that Venus — that is, sexual love — offers no protection against the lover's faithlessness. In their discursive form, all of the "Ch" balades show a similarly graceful three-part progression.

The form of the chant royal offers more problems to the poet than the balade does. Five long stanzas plus envoy, with a demanding rhyme scheme but without refrain to define the stanza units, make lyric effectiveness more difficult. The difficulty perhaps explains why the chant and related five-stanza types, lineal descendants of the dominant but more flexible Old French chanson, did not rival the balade's popularity in Middle French times. In "Ch's" four chants royaux, in accord with contemporary practice, the stanzas tend to be parallel rather than set in an order of progression or juxtaposition as in the balades. One of the chants (Poem IV), for example, is simply a long prayer for lovers with each stanza containing one or more petitions. In stanza one the poet asks that various classes have their appropriate rewards: joy to ladies, pleasure to lovers, pain and torment to the envious. In stanza two, developed by personification, he begs that ladies behave gently with their lovers, not giving Danger "absolute lordship nor harsh strength to Denial" (Poem IV, lines 10–11), and sending Delay on his way. In the ensuing stanzas he requests that ladies of beauty and modesty be rewarded with increased merit and virtue; calls on the natural order of elements and planets to favor the followers of Bonne Amour; and addresses his personal prayer to his lady, wishing her health and begging her pity. The envoy, generally longer in the chant royal form, is but a line here. It assures the lady that the lover's good is dependent on her.

In all four of "Ch's" chants the final stanza is a direct address by the speaker to his lady. This feature, conforming as it does to the formula of the puys of Picardy, may be a sign of the "Ch" composer's association with the puys, the late medieval civic societies of poets found in northwest France and in London.8 In fact, the envoy of one of the chants (Poem XI) has the standard address to the "Prince of the puy."9 The effect of making the fifth stanza direct address is to extend the hortatory envoy back into the poem. Such extension works out relatively well in Poem IV, which is a prayer and accordingly hortatory in toto. But in the others it cuts short the main matter. For instance in the description of the sovereign life of love in Poem I, after four stanzas extolling the various features of this paradisal life, the shift to direct address has the effect of truncating thematic development.

All fifteen of "Ch's" lyrics, nevertheless, are effectively unified. The prominent practitioners of the Middle French mode taught the poet to make his images clear and consistent, and not to fragment the verbal picture by mixing in heterogeneous images. For instance, one chant (Poem IX) is built around a personification allegory that describes a parliament summoned by Love in which Desire refutes Danger, Pity puts Refusal to great confusion, and the narrator begs to make the acquaintance of Loyal Desire and Amorous Memory. And in the balade of the bereft lover (Poem VIII), which is unified about its literary reference, he begins by comparing his lady to eleven famous female lovers, such as Esther and Guenevere; then he compares himself to two ladies full of anguish, Phyllis and Io; and finally he reviles Atropos, the Fate, for taking his beloved from him. Especially effective in unifying balades XII and XIII are images attendant on the death of a lover: the grave inscription celebrating him as a martyr of love, recollection of his unrewarded service, the testament in which he bequeaths his heart to the lady, the black clothes of the mourners, and so on.

While parallels in wording between the "Ch" poems and works of Chaucer are mainly more general than striking, themes and techniques of every one of the French lyrics find correspondences in the English poet's verse, and they have poetic richness worthy of a young Chaucer. One prominent feature of the "Ch" lyrics which is not especially common in Chaucer's English work is the concentrated use of personification found in nine of the poems, including all four chants (Poems I, IV, IX, XI). Yet Chaucer employs standard personifications like Nature, Fortune, Love, and Danger throughout his poetry, and he composed one well-developed allegory in the Complaint unto Pity, which is usually identified as a very early work and therefore written near the time of the "Ch" works. Poem IX has some near correspondences to Complaint unto Pity in that both works feature a formal gathering of personified aspects of love and its attendant circumstances, with Pity being the focus of a public plea by the narrator-lover. Poem III, a balade, also evokes Complaint unto Pity; though the narratives contrast, the cast of characters and the world of the action are very similar. In the balade, an entourage of personifications such as Pity and the debonair Heart come forth to attend the lady while Danger has been exiled overseas, leading the lover to amorous rapture. By contrast, in Chaucer's poem Beauty, Youth, Wisdom, and such attend on the bier of Pity, whom Cruelty has cast from her heritage, while the lady is obsessed by the lover's death.

Several of the poems which feature multiple personifications recall discrete passages in Troilus, sets of stanzas that form short independent lyrics. In these passages, though no personification other than Love appears, the generalized application of Chaucer's abstract terms make them readily translatable into allegory. The paean to love that Poem I comprises, and in large part the lover's thanksgiving of Poem XIV, recall Antigone's celebration of the life of loving in Troilus and Criseyde (II.827–75). In all three cases the speakers focus on praise of the life of love, its innate goodness, and its guiding the lovers to constant betterment. The prayer for lovers which makes up Poem IV, a chant built around personifications, presents a parallel to the Troilus narrator's invocation at the beginning of the work (I.22–51), where he asks lovers' prayers for their fellow servants of Love. While such prayers were conventional lyric subjects, a notable richness of image and complexity of petition marks both the chant and the invocation. Poems XII and XIII, as previously noted, make effective use of the popular lyric subject of the lover's death, either anticipated or consummated. They recall both Criseyde's prediction of her death (IV.764–91) and Troilus' testament (V.295–315). The passages of Troilus, like the balades, present the recurrent motifs of the type. Mars's pleas for the pity of knights and ladies in Chaucer's Complaint of Mars (lines 281–98) is also related to these poems.

Jean de le Mote's poetry was important in establishing the practice of literary allusion in forme fixe poetry; like le Mote, both Chaucer and the "Ch" poet drew heavily on Ovid and Virgil, while also alluding to characters of the Bible and medieval romance. Though most of "Ch's" references are clear, the story of the "three daughters of Phoebus" that informs Poem VI is as puzzling as some of those in Jean de le Mote's verse. Chaucer himself, of course, while generally adhering to the established narratives, sometimes varies them or creates his own versions, as when he attributes a metamorphosis to Alceste in the Legend of Good Women (F.511–16). More specifically like Chaucer is the roll call in Poem VIII of thirteen noble, often tragic, women: Esther, Judith, Thisbe, Helen, Polyxena, Hero, Ariadne, Isolt, Dido, Guinevere, Daphne, Phyllis, and Io. Five of these are duplicated in the list of six beautiful women in Poem XI. Chaucer includes nine of the thirteen in the train of literary figures named in the balade of the Prologue to the Legend of Good Women (F.249–69).

Two of the most inventive and entertaining of the "Ch" works are unified neatly around Ovidian themes. The playful spirit of Poem VII evokes several of Chaucer's droll short poems, and especially the narrator's humorous prayer to Morpheus in the Book of the Duchess (lines 238–69).10 In "Ch's" lively poem, the lover-narrator, separated from his beloved by an Argus-eyed guardian, longs to join her. With increasing emotion he expresses his desire that Jupiter turn him into a shower of gold, just as the god metamorphosed himself in order to get to Danaë. Poem X, the only rondeau, constitutes another impressive use of Ovidian art. It is an exemplary representative of the rondeau form, managing in a mere eight lines by means of deft literary allusion to present a neat Ars Amatoria. If you wish to sacrifice to Venus in her proper temple, says the poet, you need to carry the arms of Orpheus, and to use Bacchus, Flora, and many promises — a transparent formula for capturing the lady with music, wine, flowers, and fast talk. The playful art of the poem is suggestive of short poems of Chaucer like "To Rosemounde" or the triple rondeau "Merciles Beaute."

One of the most suggestive of Chaucer's verse is Poem V, in which the lady narrator, abandoned when past her youth, reproaches the lover for his desertion. She compares him to several villains of history, including Nero, Herod, Judas, Aeneas, Jason, and Livy's false judge Apius, whose perfidy Chaucer tells in The Physician's Tale. She reproaches Venus, too, for not schooling her for such treason with the love tragedies of Helen and Medea. Similar laments of the rejected lady in the manner of Ovid's Heroides provided a favorite topic for Chaucer. The motif is found in Anelida's lament in Anelida and Arcite (lines 211–350), the nine complaints of famous mistreated women in the Legend of Good Women, and Dido's lament in the House of Fame (lines 320–60). In this "Ch" balade, and the others discussed that contain extensive literary allusion, the poet displays an easy familiarity with classical sources. His use of learning in this respect is quite superior to that typically displayed in the perfunctory and superficial references of a Deschamps or Granson.

The fifteen works of the "Ch" poet make a well-unified corpus of love lyrics in the formes fixes. The poet shows a ready mastery of form, handling without awkwardness long stanzas with intricate rhyme-schemes, the typical pattern being a ten-line ababbccdcd. It might be described as an expanded rhyme royal (ababbcc), which became Chaucer's favorite stanza. The long stanza and the plentiful use of rhetorical figures identify the poet as more the rhetorician than the musician. If "Ch" is Chaucer, it would seem that he composed these works before he came fully under the influence of the great musician-poet, Machaut. A date for the works early in Chaucer's career, as I have shown, accords with the contents and likely process of compilation of the Pennsylvania manuscript.

Two important features of "Ch's" artistry which indicate a quality of literary talent not unworthy of a Chaucer are the poet's use and development of striking metaphors to unify the lyrics and his elegant fabrication and integration of refrain in balade and rondeau. The image in Poem XV of the lover's heart, which if cloven would reveal the eyes and image of the beloved lady, serves effectively to introduce and organize the description of the beloved that is the subject of the poem. Comparably, the refrain of Poem II provides not only a fine unifying image but also an apt conclusion for stanza and poem: "Que fons et fris comme au feu fait la cire" ("And I melt and burn like wax does in the fire"). The lover's burning here evokes Chaucer's Troilus burning in the "fire of love" (I.435–40) and Damian in The Merchant's Tale, burnt by Venus' torch (CT IV[A]1775–77). Granted that the figure of the lover's burning is a commonplace of the mode, a more cogent affinity of the refrain to Chaucer is found in the poetic technique: the compact, gracefully alliterating wording that presents the lover as like melting wax, and the poet's smooth integration of the refrain in each of the three stanzas. A number of the refrains that the poet employs (e.g., for Poems III, V, VII, VIII, XV) similarly may be seen as worthy forerunners of the skillful refrains that crown Chaucer's lyrics. In sum, all indications are that the "Ch" poems in Penn were composed by a single gifted author; if the initials "Ch" do not indicate Chaucer, the lyrics are, nonetheless, of such content and quality that the group may be associated with the great poet's name without affront.

The Poems of "Ch" Texts

The following edition is made from the unique texts of the poems in University of Pennsylvania Manuscript French 15, a parchment codex of one hundred folios without illuminations, measuring 30 by 24.2 cm. The manuscript was written down in a neat Gothic hand by French scribes at the end of the fourteenth century. Though the scribes were French, the manuscript could have been made in England. In the List of Contents of 310 poems (see below), the works appear as numbers 235, 237, 239–42, 244–45, 249, 260, 264, and 273–76; inscribed on folios 74c–85a.

French Lyric Poets of the Fourteenth Century Associated with Chaucer and the "Ch" Poems

Guillaume de Machaut, 1300–77: the preeminent fourteenth-century French poet and musician; patronized by Bonne of Luxembourg, first wife of Jean II (1340–54), and by their sons, most notably the duke of Berry.

Jean de le Mote, active 1327–50: clerk and musician-poet who served Queen Philippa in Hainault, and later in the English court in the 1340s.

Jean Froissart, 1337–140?: chronicler of the Hundred Years War and poet who served Queen Philippa at the English court 1361–68.

Oton de Granson, 134?–97: knight-poet who served English royalty on and off from 1369 until his death.

Eustache Deschamps, 1346–140?: prolific poet of the French court; "educated" ("nourri") by Machaut, whom he celebrated in verse; his 1,017 extant balades also include a famous one praising Chaucer.

Go To 1. Chançon Royal [The Sovereign Life of Love]