John Gower’s Cinkante Balades

Edited and Translated by Peter Nicholson

Together with his own Traitié pour essampler les amantz marietz, Gower’s Cinkante Balades contain the only surviving ballades in French by a medieval English poet. In adopting so distinctively French a form and in forming so coherent a collection, they constituted a bold assertion of Gower’s own status as a poet as he prepared them for presentation to his new king.  We have no evidence that he ever made that presentation, however, and even more unfortunately for Gower, he wrote them at just the time that the use of French in England was rapidly declining, and for all we can tell, they lay unread for nearly 400 years. Their fortunes among modern readers have been only slightly better. Out of the mainstream both geographically and linguistically, they have been largely overlooked by readers of French literature,[1] and among readers of English, they have gotten what little attention they have received only from those whose main interest is Gower.[2]  They deserve to be better known, not just as a manifestation, if also something of a last gasp, of the international literary culture at the turn of the fifteenth century, but also because of Gower’s contribution to the history of the ballade. While they are consciously steeped in the forms and diction of his continental predecessors, there are also very important ways in which the Balades are unlike Gower’s French models, and while distinctively Gowerian in some respects, they are also innovative in ways that could not be guessed from his longer works.

The purpose and goals of this new edition and translation are described in the Introduction.  Some of the difficulties and remaining puzzles are described in the notes.  Placing this work on-line provides an opportunity to improve it and to make it more useful.  The editor (nicholson@hawaii.rr.com) welcomes comments, corrections, additions, and suggestions for revision, and if incorporated, all will of course be fully acknowledged.

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[1] The exceptions are short discussions in M. Dominica Legge, Anglo-Norman Literature and its Background (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963), 357-61, and William Calin, The French Tradition and the Literature of Medieval England (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994), 380-85, plus the important studies by Ardis Butterfield, cited in the complete introduction linked below. All three authors, it must be noted, write in English.
[2] The leader here has been R.F. Yeager, who in addition to several important essays has also published an edition and translation of both collections: John Gower, The French Balades, TEAMS Middle English Texts Series (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute, 2011).  The most important studies of the Cinkante Balades, including Yeager’s, are cited below.

CONTENTS

Introduction

Dating, Order and Arrangement
Forms and Themes
Language
The Manuscript
The Edition and Translation
Abbreviations

Index to the Notes

CINKANTE BALADES

(Click link for PDF of French text, Modern English translation, notes, & commentary for each Balade)

# French First Line Translation First Line
1 [ . . . ] [ . . . ]
2 L’ivern s’en vait et l’estée vient flori Winter departs and summer arrives in flower
3 D’ardant desir celle amourouse peigne This amorous pain of burning desire
41 D’entier voloir, sanz jammes departir With all its will, undividedly and unceasingly
42 Sanz departir, j’ai tout mon coer assis Undividedly, I have placed my entire heart
5 Pour une soule avoir et rejoïr To have and to give joy to one alone
6 La fame et la treshalte renomée The fame and the most high renown
7 De fin amour c’est le droit et nature It is the law and nature of fin amour
8 D’estable coer, qui nullement se mue From a constant heart, which in no way changes
9 Trop tart a ceo qe jeo desire et proie Too late does my fortune arrive
10 Mon tredouls coer, mon coer avetz souleine My sweetest heart, you alone have my heart
11 Mes sens forein se pourront bien movoir My outward senses could well move about
12 Ma dame a la Chalandre comparer I could compare my lady to the calandra
13 Au mois de Marsz, u tant y ad muance To the month of March, in which there is so much change
14 Pour penser de ma dame sovereine In thinking about my sovereign lady
15 Com l’esperver qe vole par creance Like the sparrowhawk that flies on a leash
16 Camelion, c’est une beste fiere The chameleon is a wild beast
17 Ne sai si de ma dame la durtée I don’t know if I’ll blame my lady’s hardheartedness
18 Les goutes d’eaue qe cheont menu Drops of water that fall bit by bit
19 Om solt danter la beste plussalvage One is used to taming the most wild beast
20 Fortune, om dist, de sa Roe vire ades Fortune, they say, constantly turns her wheel
21 Au solail, qe les herbes eslumine To the sun, which shines brightly upon the meadows
22 J’ai bien sovent oï parler d’amour Quite often have I heard talk of love
23 Pour un regard au primere acqueintance Because of a look upon first meeting
24 Jeo quide qe ma dame de sa mein I think that my lady with her hand
25 Ma dame, si ceo fuist a vo plesir My lady, if it were to your pleasure
26 Salutz, honour, et toute reverence Greetings, honor, and all reverence
27 Ma dame, qant jeo vi vostre oil vair et riant My lady, when I saw your eyes, bright and laughing
28 Dame, u est ore celle naturesce Lady, where is now that goodly nature
29 Par droite cause et par necessité For a rightful cause and out of necessity
30 Si com la Nief qant le fort vent tempeste Just as the ship when a strong wind blows
31 Ma belle dame, bone et graciouse My beautiful lady, good and gracious
32 Cest aun novell Janus, q’ad double face This new year, Janus, who has a double face
33 Au comencer del aun present novell At the beginning of the present new year
34 Saint Valentin l’amour et la nature Saint Valentine has under his governance
35 Saint Valentin, plus qe null Emperour Saint Valentine, more than any emperor
36 Pour comparer ce Jolif temps de Maii In comparing this joyful time of May
37 El Mois de Maii la plusjoiouse chose In the month of May the most joyous thing
38 Sicom la fine piere D’aiamand Just as the precious lodestone
39 En vous, ma doulce dame sovereine In you, my sweet sovereign lady
40 Om dist, promesses ne sont pas estables They say that promises are not reliable
41 Des fals amantz tantz sont au jour present There are so many false lovers at the present time
42 Semblables sont la fortune et les dées Fortune and dice are similar
43 Plustricherous qe Jason a Medée More treacherous than Jason to Medea
44 Vailant, Courtois, gentil, et renomée Valiant, courteous, noble, and renowned
45 Ma dame, jeo vous doi bien comparer My lady, well ought I to compare you
46 En resemblance d’aigle, qui surmonte Similar to an eagle, which surmounts
47 Li corps se tient par manger et par boire The body is sustained by eating and drinking
48 Amour est une chose merveilouse Love is a wonderful thing
49 As bons est bon et a les mals malvois Good for the good and bad for the wicked
50 De vrai honour est amour tout le chief Of true honor the whole source is love
[51] Amour de soi est bon en toute guise Love in itself is good in every guise

Gower, John. Cinkante Balades. Edited and translated by Peter Nicholson, Feb. 2021, John Gower Society, www.JohnGower.org.

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