Renowned but wayward Troy, vain Babylon,
Harsh Nineveh, and languid Rome were felled;
Long ago they exercised dominion,
But since from their own lands have been expelled,
Or kept small plots, where they disgruntled dwelled.
Their sovereignty was lost when, hearts athrob
With false ideals, they let themselves be quelled
By rulers who would not police the mob.

Truth they left through pride, and found perdition;
Enticing rich entitlements they smelled;
Carnal sins and foul dissimulation,
Divisiveness and envy in them swelled.
The common good in great contempt they held,
And thought a babe an inconvenient blob;
Foes crushed them, for their glory was dispelled
By rulers who would not police the mob.

As they rejected law in civil union
When punishment unjustly was withheld,
There rose the rabble’s barbarous rebellion.
Brute rogues broke heads in mode unparalleled;
Tax gatherers the rioters excelled
In seizing all the riches they could rob
To be spent as ideology compelled
By rulers who would not police the mob.

Good folk despoiled, street scoundrels took possession,
However brief, of wares their greed beheld,
And from such folly came entire destruction
Of realms that, hating God and man, rebelled.
It is a law by reason’s force impelled
That murder of one’s neighbor is the job
Created where injustice is upheld
By rulers who will not police the mob.

Hear, princes all, my logical conclusion:
Rude communes of fierce criminal commotion
At any governance their firebombs lob.
Make them, therefore, in dutiful contrition
Cry mercy—or we face extermination
By rulers who will not police the mob.

 

French original

Troye la grant, Babiloine, Ylion,
Et Nynive la grant, Romme gastée,
Furent jadis en grant dominion,
Qui au jour d’uy n’ont pays ne contrée,
Fors trop petit, avec la renommée
De leur pouoir qui, par deffault d’avis,
Fu tout destruit par mauvaise pensée,
Par le regne des maleureux chetis.

Orgueil les mist a grief perdicion,
Convoitise a leur fin determinée,
Pechié de char, dissimulacion,
Hayne entre eulz, envie la dervée,
Le bien commun que chascun d’eulz devée,
Tant qu’ilz furent de tous lieux envais,
Mors, subjuguez, et leur gloire finée
Par le regne des maleureux chetis.

Mais par deffault d’amour et d’union,
De pou pugnir, de mal paier souldée,
Est conceue mainte rebellion,
Par justice qui en rien n’est gardée,
Par genz tenir plus qu’a raison n’agrée,
Et de despendre folement, ce m’est vis,
Les bons n’ont riens; mauvais ont la donnée
Par le regne des maleureux chetis.

Car le commun est en elacion,
Qui sanz raison se mue a la volée,
Et ainsi vient la grant destruccion,
Quant terre s’est au seigneur revelée.
Adonc entre eulz convient fere mellée,
Entretuer ceulx qui sont d’un pays;
Mal est adonc la chose a fin menée
Par le regne des maleureux chetis.

Princes, je tien, et pour conclusion,
Que les citez qui font commocion
Au souverain meuvent trop grans perils;
Pour ce leur lo qu’en grant devocion
Crient mercy, ou trestuit periron
Par le regne des maleureux chetis.

 

 

Margaret Coats lives in California.  She holds a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and Language from Harvard University.  She has retired from a career of teaching literature, languages, and writing that included considerable work in homeschooling for her own family and others.  


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32 Responses

  1. Julian D. Woodruff

    A stunner! If I read the original aright, the resourceful translation is even more pointed. “The reign of miserable cheats” is probably inadequate as a translation, but still a thought that applies to what we’re experiencing here today. Thank you, Ms. Coats!

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      I would say Deschamps calls the mob “unhappy scum,” and he makes it clear that the failure of rulers to restore justice is what allows rioters to reign. I think he would agree, therefore, that rulers can share the repeated blame in the refrain. Thanks for appreciating my resources, most of which are suggested by Deschamps.

      Reply
  2. Leo Zoutewelle

    Thank you, Margaret; I was not aware that this particular problem in our current situation is about as old as the hills. Yours is an important contribution to the knowledge and understanding of our current environment. Thank you much!
    Leo

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      We can all thank Eustache Deschamps for applying historical perspective to his own situation, which included social and economic woes following depopulation by the Black Death, that happened about the time he was born. He was a wise man.

      Reply
  3. C.B. Anderson

    Yes, Margaret, a chilling “version” of the original with a deft use of slant rhymes it is. Also interesting is how close some of the French words are to their English equivalents, but I guess that should be no surprise, considering how much the two languages have contributed to each other, especially in the French-to-English direction.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      In syllabic French, “on” is the identical final syllable in all those words that become slant rhymes in English. Thanks for crediting my deftness, but it was quite easy to stay with the original meaning and thought. Deschamps himself made only one slight tweak. Notice that all the “on” words are nouns, except the last, where he omits the unsounded final “s” of the verbal ending in “perirons” to make an “eye rhyme.” That word means, “we will perish”; it’s his wake-up warning. My choice of “extermination” (by one’s own rulers) attempts to apply Deschamps’ force there; glad you caught the chill.

      Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Margaret – I’m sorry that I have missed your worthy contribution to ochlocratic studies all day while I have been unrewardingly engaged in other matters, sc trying to get my parvum opus finished in time for Christmas 2066 while being bullied incessantly by my own laptop that seems to go off on tea-breaks and unofficial strikes at the drop of a çedilla. As you might expect of somebody whose sum total of mediaeval French is “Honi soit qui mal y pense” I’m unqualified to give an opinion on this rendering and it would be presumptuous folly in me to attempt it. But it DOES read so well in your translation, and Deschamps sounds an intriguing figure in your little helpful biog. I wonder if he expatiated over the “mob” conscience which it seems to me can justify any behaviour by equivocation. If, singly, you throw a half-brick at a police officer and kill him you are guilty of murder. If, as part of a crowd all doing the same thing, and being a more accurate shot than your fellow attempted murderers , you throw twenty half-bricks and kill half-a-dozen yourself you may get away with unruly behaviour if those individual bricks can’t be proved to have emanated from you.

      Reply
      • Margaret Coats

        Sorry, I do not know of any Deschamps poem that further explores mob conscience, but I am very far from having read all his works. Glad my rendering of this one reads well to you, and I knew you would like my use of “disgruntled” in it.

      • C.B. Anderson

        It’s said that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, but in what kind of house do people who shouldn’t throw bricks live?

  4. Sarban Bhattacharya

    Historically true, topically relevant, reflecting the zeitgeist of the modern age. Thank you Margaret Coats for translating a piece of universal interest with great poetic skill and dexterity.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thank you for finding this medieval poem of universal interest, and even more for seeing how it, in its own way, reflects the modern zeitgeist. Deschamps held up the great medieval ideal of justice, applied in accord with reason.

      Reply
  5. Terry L. Norton

    What an excellent rendition from French into English, and for me an introduction to a writer I did not know. It would be interesting to learn about the background of Deschamps and perhaps some of the reasons for his political stance based on events of his day. You have stirred my curiosity to find out more. Thank you for your fine translation.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Deschamps left ten volumes of poetry as well as the first treatise on French versification, but his career was that of a civil administrator and diplomat. He saw social problems firsthand, as one who had to deal with them. He hated high taxes because they impoverished hardworking people–but tax riots were just as bad. I believe he found the root problem of his time was that too many rulers, officials, and ordinary people had abandoned the justice toward both God and neighbor that undergirds civic virtue. To him (as generally in medieval thought), justice means giving to everyone what is his due. Sorry I don’t know of any resource to read more about the man, but I’ve come to know him just through reading and translating many of his poems.

      Reply
      • Terry L. Norton

        Thank you kindly for this information that gives added insight into the man and his work.

  6. David Watt

    Margaret, from ten volumes of Deschamps poetry you have chosen to translate a poem highly relevant to our times. More than that, your writing is arresting and skillful.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Glad I’ve been able to render the poem in language that makes it relevant. Deschamps is a poet of vast interests; this chant royal is one of his best at combining description and analysis of social and political matters.

      Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      That’s required, in accord with the French form, but not easy to do in English. I choose rhymes sounds very carefully!

      Reply
  7. BDW

    Ms. Coats has brought to us a timely translation. As I am interested in artistic construction, I wonder what approach her translation took. Did she begin with the refrain? Was the first stanza first? I wonder what an unpoetic translation of “Par le regne des maleureux chetis” would look like. SCP is definitely fortunate to have such a fine francophone.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      I do begin the translation of any refrain poem with the refrain. It’s the most important part of the poem, and it gives me one rhyme sound. In this poem, I had to make sure of having 5 on-topic words that rhyme with the refrain. Better to make another refrain at once if there are not that many. This French refrain, literally, is “By the reign of unhappy scum.” But this is ten syllables in French, and thus should be iambic pentameter in English. I decided on my English refrain because Deschamps blames those who fail to render justice, namely, rulers who let the good be injured and let the unhappy scum reign, by failing to punish the evildoers.

      After the refrain, I do the envoi, or shorter final stanza. As a summary, it’s next in importance. I wouldn’t do it next if I were writing an original poem, because I wouldn’t know yet what I was summarizing. But in a translation or adaptation, I know, and I have to make sure it’s an effective conclusion. This gives me one more rhyme sound, and in this case I chose to keep many of Deschamps’ own rhyme words. Look at the French, and you’ll see that dominion, perdition, dissimulation, union, rebellion, destruction, conclusion, and commotion all come from the original. This keeps the flavor of the French poem, and it wasn’t hard to find the few words I needed to fill the other spots for this rhyme sound.

      Let me point out that NO ONE SHOULD RHYME THIS WAY IN AN ORIGINAL ENGLISH POEM. These words don’t rhyme in English, though they have the same rhythm and the same letters at the end. My excuse here is sticking with my French author, and that’s not enough for some critics, though I believe I have rendered Deschamps fairly well here, and better than I could have if I had changed all his words to English words ending in A-tion, for example.

      With the envoi done, I go to the first stanza and proceed in order from there. The first stanza gives me the additional rhyme sound I need, and this time I had to make sure of many, many words rhyming in -eld, because I needed 16, and of course, many will not be suitable for the topic.

      That my process; thanks for your interest. I am not a fine francophone, by the way, just an extensive reader in French poetry, but poetry is what we do here, and I’m happy to bring some otherwise unknown French poems and forms to light for English speakers who love and practice poetry.

      Reply
      • Julian D. Woodruff

        Thank you, Prof. Coats, for your description. Sensible and sensitive

  8. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Margaret, it’s a real privilege, and one of the many rewards of belonging to this site, to read this skillful, educational, insightful and delightful translation. I’m learning to appreciate the wonder of the chant royal and I simply love the term “Urban Disturbances”. Thank you, Margaret. This posting is a real treat.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Deschamps is the poet to show anyone the wonder of chant royal. He wrote more than 120 of them, with many little variations of line length, stanza length, rhyme scheme, envoi shape, and other features. He confounds any definition of chant royal that I ever saw!

      Reply
  9. Seer Ablicudew

    I seem to have sent this comment somewhere else in cyberspace, and so I have resent it, but with this opening sentence, so the computer will accept the comment; otherwise it will not allow it to be printed.

    Ms. Coats’ refreshingly thorough analysis of her poetic translation is a pleasant rarity. Her “timely translation” has nicely aided (added) a tag for my recent poem on the recent violence in Philadelphia.

    Though Ms. Coats “shouts out” that no one should write a poem in this manner, I would note that Poe actually chose his rhyme sound “or” in “The Raven” first, and then proceeded from there. I occasionally begin a poem at the end, sometimes in the middle.

    Now, of course, poetic translation is a different beast, sometimes one rhymes, chooses a meter, etc. There are many approaches to poetic translation available. What is nice is Ms. Coats shows careful artistry in her choices.

    Reply
  10. Margaret Coats

    My shouting in capital letters was NOT intended to discourage anyone from choosing a rhyme sound and adhering to it; it’s always wise to plan ahead in that way! Rather, I meant that we at SCP should strive for perfect rather than imperfect rhymes. Using imperfect or slant or off rhymes usually betrays sloppy work. I was explaining that one of my rhyme sound choices in “Urban Disturbances” involved many rhyme words that are perfect rhymes in French, but not in English. I did this to keep the original author’s words:

    dominion — rhymes with opinion
    perdition — rhymes with contrition
    dissimulation — rhymes with extermination
    union — rhymes with its derivatives, such as disunion
    rebellion — rhymes with hellion
    destruction — rhymes with construction
    conclusion — rhymes with fusion
    commotion — rhymes with lotion

    As we see, there are, in accentual English, different accented-vowel-plus-final-sounds in all these words, meaning that strictly speaking, none of them rhyme with each other. In syllabic French, the last syllable in each is “on” and therefore they rhyme perfectly. Slant rhymes are often acceptable to readers of English poetry, if the word rhythm is correct and the last letters look the same (“eye rhyme”). I am quite willing to accept this at times; my point is that we who want to restore classical English poetry should aim to use perfect rhymes. When Poe chose “or” for his refrain sound in “The Raven,” that’s what he did, as he was working with an accented final syllable (masculine rhyme).

    Reply
  11. Julian D. Woodruff

    Aiming for the perfect rhyme is sound policy (pardon my adjective). But at least with the less resourceful of us (myself included) it can also lead to uninspired or even forced rhymes. I think that with slant rhymes, half rhymes and near rhymes the thing is to use them pointedly, or at least cleverly and creatively, not simply because it seems they’re the only resort. Susan Jarvis Bryant has a good example of such use early in her “Over Eighteen” poem that appears here at SCP today. A while back I pointed out a splendid example from Tom Lehrer’s song on the periodic table.
    Another point:should such pairings as condition / rendition be considered rhymes? I know almost everyone treats them as such, but in the same spirit of seeking the true rhyme, maybe it would be better as a rule to try to find something like ambition / contrition

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      I like “sound policy”! My key words are “strive for” perfect rhymes, and I would say you are quite right about how we should use rhymes that are not perfect, when we find them useful. We should, I believe, question ourselves about whether we really need them, and when we think we do, judge our practice by the standards you describe.

      On one occasion, I had decided that I could do no better than use some slants, and submitted the poem to Evan. Then I said to myself, “I can fix this,” and wrote out all the words that rhymed perfectly, to see if there was any way they might fit. I was surprised at how easy it was–and Evan was quite pleasant about taking the revision. As I don’t want to make him work any more than he already does, I resolved to do my own extra work before letting him see any future piece.

      As to the question about “condition” and “rendition,” I’m not sure of the principles behind the answer, especially because it is a feminine rhyme. I know what you’re getting at, namely, should the “di” (accented syllable) be rejected as a rhyme because it is identical in both words. You’re right about that being a refinement that usually goes unnoticed. It does seem better to use “ambition” or “contrition” if one of these is suitable. I wouldn’t criticize two “-dition” rhyme words, but a sing-song effect begins to develop when there’s a third rhyme word and it’s “edition.” This may be desirable in a humorous poem. In “Urban Disturbances” I had several words ending in the sounds “-spelled” and “-held,” and I spaced them to avoid the undesirable sing-song. It was, of course, impossible to find 16 English words ending in “-eld” without some repetition of preceding consonant sounds. These, of course, were masculine rhymes with the accent on the final syllable.

      Reply
  12. BDW

    I am not averse to rhyme. I like it too much, too much because, my classical side, Greek and Latin, recoils at rhyme. “Beowulf”, Shakespeare’s blank verse and Milton’s “Paradise Lost” are important English examples of non-rhyming poetry. Hence, I do not think we should strive for perfect rhymes, but rather, better poetry.

    Though @ SCP I am a heretic (or maybe better, a social outcast. pariah), when it comes to my thoughts on rhyme. I am always happy when I use intricate slant rhymes, inverted rhymes, or even blatant nonrhymes, because I am so grounded in Postmodern and New Millennial folk poetry, i.e., country, rock, hip-hop, etc. Escape is gratifying, even escape from meter, as in Shakespearean prose.

    I do read French, not like my wife who reads French newspapers and magazines all the time, along with watching French TV and movies; but enough so that I understand the motivation of Ms. Coats’ translation. [In fact, it is the practice of French writers who partially sent me to syllabic poetry.] So, though no one else here will likely believe it, I can’t help but feel my main flaw in writing is my overuse of exact rhyme. Yet I have to indict my poetic practice, because, my writing is generally not appreciated by this generation, and I must explain myself to any who are appreciative, or may become so in the future.

    Despite these critical words, I still regard Ms. Coats’ judgments as among the very best @ SCP. As an aside, I have just come from Zadig.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      We only need to strive for perfect rhyme if we decide to use this resource of our language and tradition. And if we do, striving for perfect rhyme is part of striving for better poetry.

      I was surprised to find that Latin poetry uses rhyme from its beginning. At least, so says Father Joseph Connelly, who edited Hymns of the Roman Liturgy–and he was referring not to Christian hymns (some rhyme and some don’t) but to very early short poems. Reading in school, we are likely to focus on Vergil’s quantitative hexameters, but quantity is only part of the picture (or should I say, composition). Latin has plenty of potential jingles, and many poets use them.

      As to your popular music models, country sometimes follows classical folk principles, which is why some of it can be so beautiful. The modern tendency in music is to invert artistic principles and deprave beauty, especially to submerge melody in beat, and this means of escape does indeed appeal to many people.

      My current comparison for what we’re attempting at SCP comes Li Po (now known as Li Bai); Evan Mantyk has translated a few of his lines. I don’t read Chinese, but I enjoy his “Ancient Air,” the beginning poem of a sequence, that has been translated into English by several scholars. Li says that classic poetry has entirely sunk from view, but he rejoices that a revival seems to be beginning in his era. He says that his work will be that of editing and transmitting–which is why I like the poem, as that work seems much like mine. Li, however, did his editing and transmitting of the classics in a way that moves far beyond my aspirations or potential. He absorbed them, and became the finest poet China has ever known, or perhaps the second, as many readers prefer Tu Fu.

      The SCP effort involves a return to lost artistic principles. This is a good thing because classic principles led to much good English poetry in the past, and can do so again.

      Thus I would say no one should indict his poetic practice due to lack of current appreciation. And overuse of exact rhyme (if by this you mean what I’ve called perfect rather than imperfect rhyme) is hardly something to regard as a flaw.

      Thanks for your commendation of my judgment; I think the best judgment for poetry comes simply from a great deal of careful reading, as well as from attention to good critics.

      Reply

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