On the day of posting this blog, much of North America is in the grip of a cold, snowy and icy winter, as is much of northern Europe. For all those tired of shovelling snow, or cursing the cancellation of their flights out of Boston or New York, remember that hard winters are not new, and that defenses against winter were likely much more inadequate five hundred years or so ago. So here is Charles d’Orleans cursing the hardships of winter – “Yver, vous n’estes qu’un villain”, Winter, you are but a knave…
Charles d’ ORLEANS (1394-1465)
Yver, vous n’estes qu’un villain
Yver, vous n’estes qu’un villain;
Esté est plaisant et gentil
En témoing de may et d’avril
Qui l’accompaignent soir et main.
Esté revet champs, bois et fleurs
De sa livrée de verdure
Et de maintes autres couleurs
Par l’ordonnance de Nature.
Mais vous, Yver, trop estes plein
De nège, vent, pluye et grézil.
On vous deust banir en éxil.
Sans point flater je parle plein,
Yver, vous n’estes qu’un villain.
After the opening declaration, full of misery and despair at the hardships of winter, the first two stanzas go into the contrasting joys and pleasures of summer and spring, pleasant, mild, the woods and flowers in bloom, greenery everywhere, and Nature showing off its abundant beauties. Such a prospect must have seemed distant indeed in a world with no photos, movies, internet, or cheap flights to sunnier climates. If you were a nobleman, like Charles, you hunkered down in your castle, with fires blazing in the enormous chimneys; you ate the food stored away at harvest time and hoped it would last until spring; and you were wrapped in furs 24 hours a day. If you were a peasant, you shivered in your hovel, hoping some Good King Wenceslas would come out and give you some food and firewood.
The third and final stanza brings us back to this reality – the snow, wind, rain and hail which made up the daily misery of the winter months. The poem concludes – Winter, you are but a knave.
See also the anonymous Irish poem, “I bring you news”, posted here on February 12th 2015 for another take on this subject, not so different.
So switch up your thermostat, or jump on a plane to Spain or the Caribbean and be glad you live in modern times.
The Poetry Dude