Eustache Deschamps, also known as Morel, (1346 – 1406) was a Medieval French poet who lived during the rise of romanticism and courtly love through ballads, poems and prose which were disseminated by troubadours and trouveres in accompanied songs and ballads.
As a religious man with profound moralist views, Deschamps composed many ballads and satirical chants to convey political and social criticism. Deschamps satirized the corruption of the French government and the vices of the clergy. He decried the cruelty of the English, bemoaned the hopelessness of poverty, and voiced disdain for materialism and corruption. Through his songs and poems he sought to awaken the conscience and encourage moral transformation.
Born at Vertus, in Champagne, France, he received lessons in versification from the musician/poet Guillaume de Machaut and later studied law at Orleans University. He then traveled through Europe as a diplomatic messenger for Charles V. While he was away, his estate was pillaged by the English and his revenge was to continuously abuse them in his many poems. Deschamps not only railed against the English but was very concerned about poverty and the problems with the French government.
As a major French poet, Deschamps wrote as many as 1,175 ballads, and he is sometimes credited with inventing the form. He also composed rondels, lays and virelays. All but one of his poems are short, and some are very satirical, attacking the English, whom he regarded as the plunderers of his country, and railing against the wealthy oppressors of the poor. His satires were directed at corrupt officials and clergy but his sharp wit may have cost him his job as Bailli of Senlis. He also wrote a treatise in 1392 on French verse entitled L'Art de dictier. Yet, Deschamps was a lyrical poet who wrote with a rhythm that demonstrated a graceful metric beat to his words. An example is Deschamps' Ballade 1:
"The stag was very proud of his swiftness,
Of running ten miles in one breath,
And the wild boar was proud to be fierce,
And the horse its beauty, and the buck was proud
Of crossing the plain at a bound,
And the one proud of strength was the bull,
The ermine in having a furry skin;
And to them all he said from his shell:
The snail will get to Easter just as soon.
What I see first are lions, leopards, bears,
Running the countryside, wolves and tigers
Under pursuit by greyhound and mastiff
And the shouts of men, so hated that if
They're caught each person will attack,
Because of the destruction of the flock;
They're thieves, treacherous and wicked,
And merciless, and for that detested.
Are they strong and fast? Good at a run?
The snail will get to Easter just as soon.
Many see him and the path he's on,
Enclosed in the shell he carries along,
They don't do him harm, they let him be,
And so he goes from week to week,
As many go in their own poor realm
Who live good lives in their simple gown,
And if the world gives them little at all,
They still go on with its good will.
And cow and calf have the meadow's run,
And the snail will get to Easter just as soon.
Prince, among the strong, the rich, the great
There's a lesson they rarely think about;
Their haste can't bring the future on:
The snail will get to Easter just as soon."
His one long poetic work, Le Miroir de Mariage, is a 13,000 line satirical poem on the subject of women. This work influenced Geoffrey Chaucer who used themes from the poem in his own work. Chaucer seems to be one of the few Englishmen Deschamps liked, as he composed a ballade in his honor praising Chaucer as a great translator and poet.
- Deschamps, Eustache. "Folio - Five Poems." Paris; NY: Paris Review, 2006. OCLC 102103626
- Sinnreich-Levi, Deborah M. and Laurie, Ian S. "Literature of the French and Occitan Middle Ages: 11th to 15th centuries." Detroit: Gale Group, 1999. ISBN 0-787-63102-7
- Wimsatt, James I. "Chaucer and his French contemporaries: natural music in the 14th century." Toronto, Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1991. ISBN 0-802-02742-3
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