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Christine de Pizan presenting The Book of the City of Ladies to Queen Isabeau

Christine de Pizan presenting The Book of the City of Ladies to Queen Isabeau

In my continuing exploration (between fits of free verse madness) of old poetry forms, I offer here the Chant Royal, five 11-line stanzas and a concluding envoi that takes the medieval ballade, my previous post, even further.

This super-fun challenge was introduced to the 14th century French courts by a well-respected author and poet who was also a woman. Christine de Pizan had the courage to challenge misogyny and the stereotypes of her era, no small feat considering these were the times of the Inquisition, of witch hunts, and crusades against the Cathars and other heretics.

I’ll save the rhyme scheme details for the end of the poem and the die-hard poets. (I know some of you, and I appreciate you to the stars!) What I will say here is this. We have been led to believe that the so-called Dark Ages contributed little to humanity beyond castle ruins, the Black Plague, and the aforementioned terrors. But I believe that deep within those years of butchery were genuine Minds on Fire. Troubadours, jongleurs, poets, and jesters (the royal fools) challenged each other’s wits for three to four hundred years with tremendous feats of language and rhyme, and may thereby have set the neuronal cornerstones for the geniuses of the Renaissance who would follow them. That’s my theory anyhow, and I like the feel of it.

I hope you enjoy “From the Silence”.

~~~

I

In the days of Egypt old there lived an
aristocracy whose lives revolved round
plucking, tweezing, averting summer tan;
‘twas only slaves while heeding every sound
from Pharaoh and his concubines enjoyed
the drench of sun on hairy skin. Less buoyed
they were by foremen of the pyramids
who viewed them as dispensable, a grid
whose lines could be replaced, a human gyre
spinning revolt, while inner voices bid:
please refrain from snapping like a tripwire.

II

In times of sooty England when the span
of industry drove youth into the ground,
when coolies and imported lesser man—
dirt cheap—drove spikes of railway iron down
through swampland, clay & stone, could not avoid
the shaming and starvation, they employed
a reddish antidote by which to rid
themselves of all the cruel bosses did.
In whispered ranks they counseled & inspired
how best to send the oligarchs askid.
Please refrain from snapping like a tripwire.

III

Today in grayish cubicles we’re crammed,
to screens of mindless data locked and bound
as viewers and consumers, Idol fans.
Through tainted quests for liberty we’ve found
our problems well described by Jung and Freud,
but none of the solutions that we’ve toyed
with wakes us from the drowsy carotid
that pulses in our craniated lid.
Ask anyone, they’ll tell you, I am tired.
I want to say, as if to spoiled kids,
please refrain from snapping like a tripwire.

IV

And then the day arrived when all my plans
to not unsnap blew up and flew around
like bits of Styrofoam. I ran my hand
through empty air, walked lonely through the town,
my iPod tuned to favourites from Pink Floyd.
I turned them off. What was this, now destroyed?
Beneath a bush, I heard a katydid
sweet-singing, clear and uninhibited.
She was not moaning, Katy should, her fire
held no judgment—the knowing came rapid:
please refrain from snapping like a tripwire.

V

I write these final stanzas from the Cannes
Film Festival where movie stars and hounds
hope movies that they love will not be panned.
The story that I thought had run aground
now stars my favourite actors who’ve deployed
the subtlest of my plot lines from the void
where all that matters must begin. Madrid
is next, and after that, who knows? Amid
the fun of now exists the all, no higher.
I’ve been reminded by a stellerid,
please refrain from snapping like a tripwire.

VI

It’s true, my friends, we’ve all inherited
capacities for joy unlimited;
by seeing what we want in full attire,
Creation’s law attracts the best of it.
Please refrain from snapping like a tripwire.

© Elaine Stirling, 2013

The rhyme scheme for Chant Royal is ababccddedE with the end line repeated in each of the five 11-line stanzas and the final envoi. The envoi can be either five or seven lines, rhymed as ddedE or ccddedE. Christine added the final mind-pretzeling rule: Apart from line E, no repetition of end words!

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