[Bards] Ballade: l'Rose de Fer

Peter Schorn peterschorn at pdq.net
Sun Apr 15 18:43:45 PDT 2007

Ballade: The Iron Rose

The English have their Roses, Red and White
The Royal House of France its Fleur-de-Lys
The Edelweiss is Switzerland’s delight
And Thistle crowns the Scotsman’s heraldry.
But what might this our kingdom’s blossom be?
What is the pride of Ansteorra’s bower?
Look to the Throne, your answer there to see:
The Iron Rose is Ansteorra’s flower!

You’ll find no bloom as lasting or as bright
Within a garden wall’s captivity:
This Rose despises cloisters—as is right,
For Queenly beauty must be brave and free!
And this Queen’s beauty works such alchemy
As puts to shame the greatest wizard’s power.
Aye, all who look upon her must agree,
The Iron Rose is Ansteorra’s flower!

Yet should impious hand e’er try to blight
This Rose of ours, her thorns will claim a fee
Of blood from them—for she knows how to fight
With no mean skill, nor little bravery!
Stern and unyielding in the fray is she
Unwavering as any castle tower:
The war-cry rises, as the foemen flee—
“The Iron Rose is Ansteorra’s flower!”

Deanna, Queen and Cavalier, to thee
We pledge a soldier’s service from this hour.
And this to all the Known World now say we:
“The Iron Rose is Ansteorra’s flower!”

Some observations upon the Quick and the Dead:

The Quick—

I wrote this poem over twenty years ago for Sir (later Duchess) Rowan
Beatrice von Kämpfer, during her first reign as Queen of Ansteorra.  She
later won the Crown in her own right, becoming the first female fighter in
the SCA to do so. 

I re-indite the work here to Ansteorra’s current Queen, Deanna della Penna.
I bore water to the field at Gulf Wars on every day of battle, and at every
rapier combat I saw Her Majesty doing the worthy work of a soldier, claiming
neither ease or favor for her rank.  Then afterwards, when ordinary soldiers
rested, she attended to the affairs of the Crown as if she bore no other
burden but that. 

Thus has Deanna proven worthy of the Ansteorran tradition of Fighting
Queens, which tradition Rowan herself upheld and further ennobled in her own
time.   The image of that tradition I found in an emblem cunningly wrought
many years ago by an armorer from the Outlands: a rose made entirely of
iron, which yet seemed as real as any that grew.  Thus, my Refrain.

The Dead—

The Ballade is a late-medieval courtly French verse form inspired by the
common peoples’ dancing-songs of the 13th century and earlier.  Its eventual
acceptance as a vehicle for serious literary work is an instance of artistic
elites purloining ideas from people they’d never acknowledge knowing, let
alone turning to for inspiration.  

The only thing the Ballade retains from its origins is the refrain, which
must be repeated exactly, sound for sound, each time.  The rhyme scheme of
each stanza is fixed precisely: eight lines per stanza, the last being the
refraining line.  Three stanzas of this are followed by an “envoi,” a
half-stanza which as its name implies was directed at some authority figure.
.  Variations existed—the Ballade with double refrain, the Chant Royale--but
they themselves were as strictly defined as anything in taxonomy.

Elements of the Ballade began appearing among the Trouveres of the 13th
centuries.  Grace Brulé (c.1160-1220), who frequented the court of Marie,
Countess of Champagne, produced a poem of three eight-line stanzas and a
two-line envoi, though there does not seem to be a refrain (but I have only
a translation, not the original French).   By the 14th century the Ballade
had arrived at the form described above and was the dominant in courtly
verse: practitioners included Guillame de Machaut, Eustache Deschamps and
Froissart.  In the 15th century it was carried to a higher pitch by Charles
d’Orleans and Christine de Pisan.  Over in England, Chaucer and Gower tried
to get in on the act.  But the form reached perfection in the hands of
Francois Villon, who, with his “Ballade of the Hanged Men” and “Ballade of
Bygone Ladies”

took the form right back to the common people, among whom it began.

CAVEAT: the above is not to be considered authoritative.  Though I have been
diligent in writing these notes, I’m an engineer, not a literary historian
(dammit, Jim!).  Correction of any errors or omissions is earnestly
solicited and will be gratefully received.

More information about the Bards mailing list