Socrates plains de philosophie,

Today we go back to the fourteenth century, the 1300s, with a poem from Eustace Deschamps in tribute to Geoffrey Chaucer. Today of course we know Chaucer predominantly for the Canterbury Tales, but in his lifetime he was better known as a great translator of the classics and of contemporary French and Italian works, as well as his work as an administrator, I think in the customs and excise function. In France, Deschamps was also not only a leading poet of the time, but also occupied important functions in royal service. He probably had the opportunity to know Chaucer in one or more of these roles, and clearly admired the English poet and translater.

So let’s enjoy this homage from one great writer to another… It is in the form of a ballad with three verses and then a shorter verse to sum up what has gone before. The language retains the medieval spellings but I think is reasonably understandable. Some of the allusions though are a bit more obscure to the modern reader.

(A Geoffroy Chaucier)

O Socrates plains de philosophie,
Seneque en meurs et Anglux en pratique,
Ovides grans en ta poeterie,
Bries en parler, saiges en rethorique,
Aigles treshaulz, qui par ta theorique
Enlumines le regne d’Eneas,
L’Isle aux Geans, ceuls de Bruth, et qui as
Seme les fleurs et plante le rosier
Aux ignorans de la langue Pandras,
Grant translateur, noble Geoffrey Chaucier.

Tu es d’Amours mondains Dieux en Albie :
Et de la Rose, en la terre Angelique
Qui, d’ Angela saxonne, est puis flourie
Angleterre, d’elle ce nom s’applique
Le derrenier en l’ethimologique,
En bon angles le Livre translatas;
Et un vergier, ou du plant demandas
De ceuls qui font pour eulx auctorisier,
A ja long temps que tu edifias,
Grant translateur, noble Geffroy Chaucier.

A toy pour ce de la fontaine Helye
Requier avoir un buvraige autentique,
Dont la doys est du tout en ta baillie,
Pour rafrener d’elle ma soif ethique,
Qui en Gaule seray paralitique
Jusques a ce que tu m’abuveras.
Eustaces sui, qui de mon plant aras:
Mais pran en gre les euvres d’escolier
Que par Cliffors de moy avoir pourras
Grant translateur, noble Geffroy Chaucier

Poete hault, loenge destruye,
En ton jardin ne seray qu’ortie:
Considere ce que j’ai dit premier
Ton noble plant, ta douce melodie.
Mais pour scavoir, de rescripre te prie,
Grant translateur, noble Geffroy Chaucier.

The first stanza starts off by putting Chaucer in the same company as the great writers and philosophers of classical times, Socrates and Seneca, paragons of Greek and Roman virtue and learning – but in practice Chaucer is English. Deschamps goes on to praise Chaucer’s qualities of brevity in speech and wisdom in rhetoric. He compares Chaucer to an eagle who loftily illuminates the life of Aeneas, of the Giants and of Brutus and who has brought the rose to England (Roman de la Rose, an early French romance). Presumably it is the English who are ignorant of the language of Pandras, and, if so, that is still the case, as I am lost by this reference.
The second stanza treats Chaucer as a God in England because of this translations and enumerates several examples as well as making puns on the name of England, the country.
The third stanza recognizes the role Chaucer has in satisfying the thirst of the poet himself, Deschamps, for knowledge and authenticity of these texts. Without Chaucer’s influence, Deschamps reckons he would be paralysed. Deschamps names himself, ” Eustace sui” in the seventh line of this stanza and says his own works are like those of a schoolboy compared to those of the great Chaucer.
This comparison is continued in the final summing-up, where Deschamps says he would be just a nettle n Chaucer’s garden. Chaucer’s work is noble, his melody is sweet, and Deschamps finishes by asking for more writings from noble Chaucer the great translator.
In summary:
Dear Geoffrey,
I really like your stuff
Your friend, Eustace

The Poetry Dude


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