That Demon of Winter

Photo: Omar Willey. CC-BY 4.0

With time the tree lost its green,
So well that among the branches there was not a leaf
Who was able to fall to earth;
Poverty threw me too to the ground
And all drew me to war,
With winter,
Who changed the sense of my verse.
My song starts, it’s odd,
With a sad story.


God gave me, that glory king,
Little of sense and memory,
A thin income,
A frozen ass when He blows,
His wind comes to me, it fans me,
And, too often,
Far too often, I feel His wind.
The demon who plays, it’s well said,
With all his promises:
He pays me well, relieves me of my goods,
Against money He permits
A great poverty.
His poverty slaughtered me.
I left my door always open,
Always I was,
Without exception,
Drowned by the rain, scorched by the sun,
And lo; richness!
I sleep little.
I worry not for my wealth,
Because I have none.
God arranges the time in such a way
That in summer the black fly bites,
And in winter, the white.
I am free as a bird,
Or least the birds on the branches:
The summer I may sing,
The winter I may cry and lament,
And lose my leafs like a yew
At first frost.
I hold no venom nor bile,
Not a memory under the sky;
All goes.
The pleasures I knew
Devoured all I had,
Misled me,
Blew me from the path,
Threw me into unhealthy vices;
Now I remember.
Now I see well: alright, it comes:
All arrives, all departs,
Save kind deeds.
The dice and these deeds
Kept me in touch:
The dice killed me,
The dice watched me and spied me,
The dice assailed and defiled me,
With their weight.
I can’t anymore, I’m on edge:
I see no coming April, nor May,
But the ice.
I’m in a rut,
Where the traitors, the sons of whores
Have left me, stripped.
The century is full of deceit!
The well-off gorge and roll,
And I, what do I do?
I who savour dearth?
The demon who plays leaves me no peace,
Plagues me ceaselessly,
Assaults me, constantly combats,
Under his rule,
Never will I cure all this evil,
I’ve placed my feet in too many cesspools,
The dice own me and hold me:
I implore them to free me.
Insane is he who follows their counsel,
He how does not pay his debts,
But in fact hoards them,
Day by day, the pile rises.
In summer he seeks no shade,
Nor the freshness of his chamber,
For his limbs are always nude,
He worries not for future suffering,
For he carries them now.
The demon who plays rests on him,
Strips him in no time,
And no one loves him.
He we name high and strong, cousin
Says, laughing: “Here he must act
With perfidy.
With the faith you drape Saint Mary,
Rein, head straight to our draperies,
To have cloth with which to profit.
If the clothier refuses,
Go right to the fair
And into Exchange.
If you swear to the Angel Saint Michael
That you’ve on you no linen nor diaper,
Where there is money,
One will see a handsome sergeant,
People find him easily,
You will have your profit.
When you set off again from here,
You’ll carry away as much wealth as ruin.”
Now, he has his wage.
Thus each satisfies my count:
I no longer can.

(from Le Démon d’Hiver by Rutebeuf (1230-1285), trs. Eli Wallis)

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