Chartier was an erudite author, trained in a traditional medieval background that profoundly influenced the formation of his poetic canon. His frequent use of allegory, personification, and courtly themes characterizes his poetry. Yet beyond mastery of conventional form and the expression of traditional themes, the poet devoted his scholarship and literary skill to communicating moral ideas to his readers. This aspect of his work issued from his observations of his contemporaries and his participation in the political events of his lifetime. Because he was deeply affected by conflict and suffering, Chartier moved from a purely aesthetic to a more realistic thematic conception.
The 1974 Laidlaw edition of Alain Chartier’s poetry is comprehensive in its discussion of the background and manuscript tradition of each poem and also in its review of previous critical editions and bibliography. Students of Chartier will benefit from this work. All the poems discussed in this section are found in the Laidlaw edition.
“The Lay on Pleasure”
Chartier’s poetry, though begun in the courtly tradition, illustrates a maturing process and a consequent passage from less serious thematic concerns to moral and political issues. His earliest love poems are traditional in form and at times somewhat awkward. “Le Lai de plaisance” (“The Lay on Pleasure”), dating from about 1414, provides an example of the young poet’s early tendency to concentrate on metrical complexity and accurate rhyme scheme rather than on subject matter. Although it is not difficult to identify the poem’s theme—thoughts on pleasure on New Year’s Day—nor to detect its sad tone, it is nevertheless somewhat perplexing to follow the thematic development through the forty-eight stanzas. The poet presents the subject in a courtly manner in the form of advice on how to be an honorable lover, yet the message is obscured at times by the poet’s intention to fulfill all the technical requirements of the lay’s fixed form. Chartier engaged in technical exercises with other fixed forms as well. His poetry shows him respecting and occasionally mastering the stanzaic, metric, and rhythmic uniformity of the ballad, the rondeau, and the chanson. Although Chartier was not innovative in the fixed-form genres, his poems possess graceful movement and harmony.
“The Book of Four Ladies”
Chartier’s longest poetic work, “Le Livre des quatre dames” (“The Book of Four Ladies”), written after the Battle of Agincourt, about 1416, represents a transition between his idealized poetry and realistic prose. This work holds special interest because, though it was written shortly after the very traditional “The Lay on Pleasure,” it contains political ideas that...
(The entire section is 1137 words.)