Je ne vois ami n’amie

Here is a poem by Eustace Deschamps, writing in the fourteenth century, and as poets and commentators do in any age, he bemoans the sadness of his times. The title is paradoxical, perhaps deliberately – I associate “virelaii” with a jolly song, perhaps with maids dancing around the maypole, more celebratory than sad. But perhaps I am mistaken about the form. Certainly the short lines and simple rhyme scheme would easily lend themselves to happier subject matter.


Je ne vois ami n’amie
Ni personne qui bien die;
Toute liesse défaut,
Tous cœurs ont pris par assaut
Tristesse et mélancolie.
Aujourd’hui n’est âme lie,
On ne chante n’esbanie,
Chacun cuide avoir défaut;
Li uns a sur l’autre envie
Et médit par jonglerie,
Toute loyauté défaut;
Honneur, amour, courtoisie,
Pitié, largesse est périe,
Mais convoitise est en haut
Qui fait de chacun versaut u,
Dont joie est anéantie :
Je ne vois ami n’amie.

From <;

The first and last lines of the poem emphasise personal alienation, the poet can’t find male or female friends. But it is soon clear that this is a commentary on the state of society rather than a reflection of the poet’s own situation. There is no fun to be found, everyone is sad and melancholy, complaining they have nothing and envying everybody else. Honour, love, pity, courtesy and generosity are perished, so there is no joy in the world.

Then, as now, many people lived lives of misery and suffering, hard toil for little reward. This poem emphasises the dark side of life. But the poem itself is an illustration of the strength and enduring success of the human spirit. Glass half full or glass half empty?

The Poetry Dude

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