Fabliau

For Dreamstone A& S competition this year, I entered a poem to fit the French “Feast of Fools” theme, and won the Scholars Choice Prize! (It may have been because my entry was the only one that was theme appropriate, but hey, I’ll take it!) 😉 The fabliau was a genre of medieval poetry, most popular in France in the 12th-14th century, which dealt with bawdy subject matter and were generally humorous and silly. Fabliaux were usually based on common folktales that were in circulation throughout Europe at the time, and in French were formatted into octosyllabic rhyming couplets with a total poem length of 100-200 lines on average. I had a friend comment upon seeing the manuscript that my poem was rather long, but at 103 lines, its actually on the shorter side for a  fabliau. I based mine on a European folktale, The Snow Child. This folktale already had a fabliau written about it, but in French (L’enfant de Nieve), which I can’t read, so I felt pretty free in writing an English version without fear of inadvertent plagiarism. To make it a little more original, I added a twist ending and a punch line to the end of the tale to make it my own.

 

The Snow Child

 

Once there was a merchant free .

Lived him there in fair Picardy,

And had him there a fair sweet bride ,

Whose chaste modesty was his pride.

They loved each other both full well,

Though it must be said, truth to tell,

After a time found their love hard,

For their life was oft sore marred,

By the journeys he needs must take,

To tend the trade and riches make.

Long and far afield he must go,

To make their future fortune grow.

For this it was all well and good,

But true it must be understood,

When a fire is unattended,

Often that is swiftly mended,

By a wife who finds on her own,

The warmth that she has not at home.

Thus it was on one fine day,

As he returned in the month May,

From a two year trip to the west,

He found indeed that he was blest,

With a red cheeked and rosy son,

Who of years had not even one.

When in his face his wife did spy,

The ire that grew in his black eye,

She swift began to him proclaim,

That miracle last winter came,

To her as she walked out one night,

To view the gentle snowfalls sight.

As she looked up into the sky,

Gave she a huge and mournful sigh.

Into her mouth a snowflake fell,

And caused her belly soon to swell,

As in her large began to grow,

This magic child of winter snow.

Indeed, said he, how blessed we are,

Upon us shines a lucky star,

That our family might still increase,

Though I travel and never cease,

My jouneys for our fire and meat,

I can return to a babe sweet.

And so it was the merchant came,

To raise the child that bore his name,

Until the boy was near full grown,

As if he was his very own.

His son he had of years fourteen,

But in life was like a bough green.

Because of this the trader said,

To the woman he hath wed,

Now that he is nigh a man made,

Tis time that he learn well to trade,

And so our horse I will equip,

That we may make a merchant trip,

To season him in worldly way.”

And once he did her fears allay,

They left apace that very week,

Together did the south coast seek,

Till he found an Italian port,

That dealt in trade of blackest sort.

Found the merchant a slaver there,

And sold to him his son and heir.

Making himself a profit thus,

He counted his shaming a plus,

And returned him home most well pleased,

With the vengeance he had seized,

From his wayward straying wife,

And thought him then well set in life.

Then he trumped his wife’s story well,

To her he did sweet retell,

Her own story, a winter’s tale,

Then told of how, in great detail,

In the southern sun one hot day,

Her son did sadly melt away.

But his success was not complete,

Indeed he found himself well beat.

He found him there upon return,

Another name for him to learn.

For in his abscence most prolonged,

Another child had come along.

He had himself a daughter now,

And again his wife did disavow,

Charges of her dishonesty.

For as she walked along the sea,

Sighing her sadness to the scree,

She tired as her hunger fierce grew.

She worried not, for she well knew,

That truely there can be no fault,

In swallowing a grain of salt,

To allay her strong hunger pain,

But knew not she would soon gain,

Another child, bonny and new,

For the salt was magical too.

At this the cuckold could say naught,

And felt that he was truely caught,

For now he could very well see,

She had achieved the victory.

Once more his anger did grow large,

And unto her he did so charge:

To you, wife, I do needs must tell,

That if you ever loved me well,

When next that heaven sent white mote,

Unto you doth swift approach,

Tremble upon your open lip,

My love, do not swallow—just spit!

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