Despite the fact that Charles is often considered to have made extensive use of allegory, it is essential to define his technique with more precision. Ann Tukey Harrison correctly suggests that Charles reduces allegories and personifications to metaphors tailored to his purposes. Often the narrative element in his poems is radically diminished or entirely eliminated, leaving him with Esperance (hope), Beauté (beauty), Bon Acceuil (welcome), or some other quality which appears to be a dramatized personification but in fact simply represents an aspect of his own experience. Thus, one of his famous poems, “La Forêt de longue actente” (the forest of long awaiting), provides not the locus of a sustained series of events (as it might have for Guillaume de Lorris, for example) but rather a simple indication of a psychological or emotional state.
Moreover, while Charles may appear to maintain a static set of personifications adopted from earlier tradition, his system is in reality remarkably flexible, each figure being freely fashioned to the need created by a particular poem and by a particular dramatic situation. Thus, Comfort (for example) may be specific or abstract, ally or foe, as the context dictates. Each figure exists within a rather wide range of possible functions, and, as a result, Charles’s poetic cosmos is constantly shifting and developing with each text and with each artistic choice.
“La Forêt de longue actente”
The stylistic pattern employed in “La Forêt de longue actente” (that is, the conjoining of a natural or architectural object with an abstraction) occurs in many of Charles’s poems and pulls them in opposing directions, creating a tension between the concrete and the abstract: the Cloud of Sadness, the Ship of Good News, the Doorway of Thought, the Window of the Eyes. Such formulas are simple stylistic inversions that present a metaphor (thought is a doorway) as an...