Langland’s French Song
This essay is part of the forum on ‘Langland and the French Tradition’, edited by R. D. Perry and Elizaveta Strakhov. It is a sustained engagement with one instance of L’s use of French: the refrain at the end of the prologue, in which distracted diggers ‘dryueþ forþ þe longe day with “Dieu saue dame Emme“‘ (B.Prol.225). Long thought by critics to be a snippet of a popular song, Perry argues instead that it is a synthetic everysong, a bit of verse designed to sonically resemble popular song but that has no independent existence outside of L’s poem. This occasions some reflection on the critical category of the ‘popular’. Perry argues further that such an understanding of the song has a wide variety of ramifications. First, it posits the limits of source study by showing that there are moments in L’s poem that seem like they would have a source but do not. Second, it demonstrates that L has the capacity to create convincing French verse with a line that would be at home in the writings of his French contemporaries. Third, it denotes a willingness on L’s part to incorporate different French forms into his verse, that what he does later in the poem to French romance is done here with French song. Fourth and finally, that the incorporation of this French form is part of L’s broader concern with idleness and the production of poetry.