Through the Revolving Door: The Fisher Library Blog

French Manuscripts at the Fisher (and a Little Springtime Cheer)

Date posted: Thu, May. 14, 2020

The Fisher has an excellent, and growing, collection of medieval manuscripts in French. Recent additions include: the earliest known copy of a French translation of the Secretum secretorum (MSS 01027), one of the most widely read works of the Middle Ages; a fine, and unusually large, copy of the Roman de la rose (MSS 07012); a beautifully illuminated copy of Clément Prinsault’s introduction to heraldry, the Traité de blazon (MSS 01026); and, of course, the manuscript of Christine de Pizan’s Livre de paix (MSS 05041) featured in an earlier post on this blog.

That post, and in particular the two poems from Christine’s Cent balades that it included, may have given an impression of medieval French literature as a wholly melancholy business. If such an impression was indeed given, the poem below is intended to dispel it. It is also fitting to the time of year, as it is an example of a reverdie, or poem in celebration of spring. (Sumer is icumen in is an English example of the same genre.) Like much medieval literature it is an allegory, which is to say that it can be read on more than one level. It can be taken as a simple description of the love of Aigline and Gui, set against the backdrop of spring’s arrival. But Aigline may also be taken as a figure for spring itself, especially given that her name is the name of a flower—it is a variant of églantine, the sweet briar. We must at least imagine that the dress she puts on at the end of the poem is as green as the leaves put on by the trees at the beginning.

To allay any concerns that the relationship described in the poem is triangular rather than linear, I would point out that Gui and Guion are one and the same. I cannot vouch, however, for the behaviour of the other knights and ladies.

From the first line it is obvious that this post should have appeared last month, but spring comes late to Canada.

         Now in the month of April spring has come;
         The woods put on their leaves, the fields are green
         Again, the gentle waters find again
         Their course, the birds sing in the evening and
         At dawn. Whoever is in love must not
         Forget, but constantly must go to her.
         Aigline and Gui already are in love:
         Gui loves Aigline, and Aigline loves Guion.

         Under a castle that they call Beauclair
         It is not long before a feast begins.
         Unmarried ladies go to dance in rounds,
         And squires go to take part in a joust,
         The knights attend, but only to observe,
         The married ladies follow their desires.
         Aigline puts on a robe of twisted silk
         That trails behind her for two cubit’s length
         Over the fields, and so comes to the dance.
         Gui loves Aigline, and Aigline loves Guion.

Timothy Perry, Medieval Manuscript and Early Book Librarian