chansons de toile


chansons de toile
(chansons d’histoire)
   Thirteenth-century sources use the term chansons de toile (or occasionally chansons d’histoire), or “spinning songs,” to refer to a small but distinct group of French poems that present brief narratives with female protagonists, often a noble lady mourning the absence of her knightly lover. These short poems are memorable for their ability to create a scene with a few vivid images and for their lively dialogue.
   These songs usually begin by naming the heroine— Bele Doette, for example, or Bele Yolande. Then the poem describes what the heroine is doing—it may be spinning or embroidering, it might be sitting alone in a tower window, it might be reading. But from this standard beginning, a number of different kinds of narratives might ensue. In Bele Doette’s song, for example, the protagonist hears of her lover’s death and ends by becoming a nun at Saint-Pol. Bele Yolande, on the other hand, gives herself to her lover at the end of her song, and we are told:
   fair Yolande clings to him with kisses,
   and in France’s sport she pins him fast.
   (Dronke 1996, 98)
   These songs consist of several short stanzas united by a single rhyme and separated by a substantial refrain. In “Fair Yolande,” for example, there are six four-line stanzas and a two-line rhyming refrain in Yolande’s own voice that translates “ ‘God, how the name of love is sweet: I never thought it would bring me grief!’ ” (Dronke 1996, 97).
   Altogether there are 20 extant chansons de toile, most of which are anonymous. Nine of these appear in one chansonnier (or songbook manuscript) attached to St. Germain-dez-Pres. Six songs have survived because they were included in longer works—five of these in one text, the Roman de Guillaume de Dole (ca. 1210) by Jean Renart. The other five poems are attributed to the 13th-century poet Andefroi le Bastart.
   It has been suggested that all of the anonymous chansons de toile are the work of a single 13th-century poet (perhaps Andefroi himself). But there are some significant differences between the poems attributed to Andefroi and the other lyrics:Musically, the anonymous lyrics are in a minor mode while Andefroi’s are in a major. Andefroi’s poems use 12-syllable lines while the anonymous poems generally use much shorter lines, sometimes six or eight syllables. Andefroi’s songs also usually have more stanzas than the typical anonymous chansons de toile. It seems likely that the anonymous poems are much earlier than Andefroi’s—most likely 12th century at the latest, and that Andefroi’s poems are a revival and reworking of the earlier genre.
   Bibliography
   ■ Dronke, Peter. The Medieval Lyric. 3rd ed. Cambridge, U.K.: Brewer, 1996.
   ■ Lewis, C. B. “The Origin of the Weaving Songs and the Theme of the Girl at the Fountain,” PMLA 37 (1922): 141–181.
   ■ Tischler, Hans, ed. Trouvère Lyrics with Melodies: Complete Comparative Edition. Neuhausen, Germany: Hänssler-Verlag, 1997.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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