A New Language

Whose name will sound among the fields?
Whose battle-cries will grind the grain?
Once, learned men and layfolk both
swore Basque and shouted English oaths:
“Help, Holyhead!” “Saint George, to me!”
were then in fashion, for we feared
the noble deeds their troops had done.
A new language always comes.

After those two, Breton displaced
the Basque and English from our lips.
Their fame exploded! No one clung
to words outworn, outmoded songs,
and all you heard was, “By God’s grace!”
from every father and his son.
The mad spoke Breton, and the dumb.
A new language always comes.

Forgotten now, no longer good,
Breton’s found peace with last year’s coins.
We only speak Burgundian!
“No god for me” — all in one voice.
You might well ask, which, of those four,
is worth the ransom, at this price.
I’ll shut up now: my song is sung.
A new language always comes.

Prince, which people will have won
the “title,” “name,” or “lawful right”
to grind the grain today? Tonight?
A new language always comes.

— Adapted by Samantha Pious


*          *          *          *          *


Toudis vient un nouvel langaige


Je ne sçay qui aura le nom
d’aler par les champs desormais;
un temps vi qu’englés et gascon
parloient tuit et clers et lais:
«San capdet» et «Saint George m’aist!»
adonc estoient en usaige
et redoubtez par leurs meffais:
Toudis vient un nouvel langaige.

Apres ces deux vindrent Breton,
des autres ne tint l’en plus plais;
trop acrurent ceux leur renom,
et n’oissiez dire jamais
fors qu’ «a Dieu le veu» en touz fais;
n’y avoit si foul ne si saige
qui ne fust Bretons contrefais;
toudis vient un nouvel langaige.

Oubliez sont, plus n’y fait bon,
il est de leur langaige paix;
l’en ne parle que bourgoignon:
«Je regny dé.» Voi ce. Or fais
demande qui sont plus parfais
a bien raençonner un mesnaige
de ces .iiii., dont je me tays:
Toudis vient un nouvel langaige.

Prince, quelz gens aront le don,
cy apres, d’avoir l’eritaige
de possider cil tiltre ou nom?
Toudis vient un nouvel langaige.

— Eustache Deschamps




Samantha Pious is pursuing a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. Her first book, A Crown of Violets (Headmistress Press, 2015), offers a selection of the French poetry of Renée Vivien in English translation. Some of her individual translations and poems have appeared in AdriennePMSLavender ReviewMezzo CamminLunch Ticket, and other publications.


Eustache Deschamps (1340-1406) was a poet whose work in forme-fixe revolutionized the style and content of French poetry. Rather than confining himself to courtly love and chivalry, Deschamps adopted more accessible concerns as his subject matter, while maintaining that poetry did not need to be set to instrumental music, since it possessed a “natural music” all its own.




One comment

  1. Patricia Henson

    I would like to know if anyone is familiar with this work by Eustache Deschamps; I read it in jr high and would like to know if the book screwed up more than the date (it said “16th century”).
    “Why are times so dark?
    Men know each other not at all,
    And governments, quite clearly, change from bad to worse.
    Now what holds sway?
    Deep gloom and boredom.
    Justice and law nowhere to be found.
    I know no more where I belong.”

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