Tuesday, May 01, 2012

A Sweet Thing is Marriage

My recent mention of mothers as an underutilized topic for poetry reminded me of another class of people about whom not many poems are written: husbands. Husbands are a very rare beast in poetry, except sometimes as cuckolds. However, there is a small handful of notable exceptions. Here's one by Christine de Pisan (or Pizan).

Ballade XXVI

Doulce chose est que mariage,
Je le puis bien par moy prouver,
Voire a qui mary bon et sage
A, comme Dieu m'a fait trouver.
Louez en soit il qui sauver
Le me vueille, car son grant bien
De fait je puis bien esprouver,
Et certes le doulz m'aime bien.

La premiere nuit du mariage
Très lors poz je bien esprouver
Son grant bien, car oncques oultrage
Ne me fist, dont me deust grever,
Mais, ains qu'il fust temps de lever,
Cent fois baisa, si com je tien,
Sanz villennie autre rouver,
Et certes le doulz m'aime bien.

Et disoit, par si doulz langage;
«Dieux m'a fait a vous arriver,
Doulce amie, et pour vostre usage
Je croy qu'il me fist eslever.»
Ainsi ne fina de resver
Toute nuit en si fait maintien
Sanz autrement soy desriver,
Et certes le doulz m'aime bien.

Princes, d'amours me fait desver
Quant il me dit qu'il est tout mien;
De doulçour me fera crever,
Et certes le doulz m'aime bien.

Which, translated, would be, (very, very) roughly:

A sweet thing is marriage;
I can prove it well by myself,
Who indeed have a good and wise husband,
Whom God has made me find.
Praise Him for willing to save him
For me, for his great goodness
I have truly been able to feel,
And truly the sweetheart loves me well.

The first night of marriage
Already I was very able to feel
His great goodness, for not one outrage
Did he do me which might have harmed me,
But, before it was time to rise,
A hundred times he kissed me, I think,
Without seeking any other villainy,
And truly the sweetheart loves me well.

And he said, by such sweet language,
"God made me for you,
Dear sweetheart, and for your use
I believe that he raised me up."
Thus he did not stop raving
All night on such things,
Without any madness otherwise,
And truly the sweetheart loves me well.

Prince, he maddens me for love
When he tells me he is all mine;
Of sweetness he will make me die,
And truly the sweetheart loves me well.

This, it should be noted, is "Ballad XXVI" from the Autres Ballades collection in the collected works, not from the Cents Ballades; this is often not made clear, making it unnecessarily difficult to find. Christine had an arranged marriage with her husband, Etienne, but found him to be everything she could have wanted in a husband: he was courteous and pleasant from the moment he met her, and they seem to have quickly come to love each other very much. But Etienne had two weaknesses: hunting and gambling. And when he died in a hunting accident, his debts were extensive enough that Christine was forced to hunt around for means to make money. This is why she started writing for money and patronage, which was usually something men did: and thus came about one of the greatest French poets of the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries.


  1. Cat Hodge9:14 AM

    I keep coming back to read this, and the one below on mothers. Thanks for posting these.

  2. Cat Hodge9:14 AM

    Is it your translation?

  3. branemrys9:29 AM

    Hi, Cat,

    Yes, it is. You can find another translation here:


  4. branemrys9:35 AM

    They are both quite good, aren't they? Good poems about mothers and husbands are hard to find, but both of these are quite as good as one could hope.

  5. Cat Hodge11:34 AM

    Very nice. My French studies are twelve years in the past, which makes trying to read the language (especially in its medieval incarnation) rather like dredging for gold in a murky river. The first time I read through it, I was so absorbed in tranlate-ish actitivy that I didn't even notice that the poem rhymed. Of course, that's kind of par for my poetry reading -- I scan for sense, not for meter or rhyme.

  6. branemrys11:44 AM

    That's pretty much where I am as well; I have only very little formal French, just a lot of reading of seventeenth century French, so my French skills are patchy, inconsistent, and come and go.


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