with Gill Williams

English folk customs included the fun of Shrove Tuesday, with pancakes and pancake races, where people had a last blow-out before the hardest part of winter, when food supplies were falling short and meat was almost unobtainable during Lent.

In the Mediterranean south of Europe, by Shrove Tuesday winter was on its way but the period of Lenten penitence, with fasting and fish eating was still observed before Easter, starting on Ash Wednesday.  Beforehand, however, the towns and villages had “Carnaval” (which comes from the Latin for farewell to meat).

A 16th Century poet, Joachim du Bellay, wrote this charming little sonnet, celebrating the fun of Shrove Tuesday and Carnival

Carnival Time

Original French


Voici le Carnaval, menons chacun la sienne, Carnival time, let’s go with our lady love
Allons baller en masque, allons nous pourmener*, And dance in masks,and go and walk about,
Allons voir Marc-Antoine, ou Zany bouffonner Or go and see Mark Anthony or Zany** clowning
 Avec son Magnifique a la Vénitienne :  As a Venetian Magnifico
 Voyons courir le pal a la mode ancienne,  Let’s see them running with banners in the old way
 Et voyons par le nez le sot buffle mener :  And see the foolish ox led by the nose
 Voyons le fier taureau d’armes environner,  The proud bull hemmed in by weapons
 Et  voyons au combat l’adresse italienne :  And watch them fencing in the Italian way:
 Voyons d’œufs parfumes un orage grêler,  See a hail storm of scented eggs
 Et la fusée ardent’ siffler menu par l’air  And flaming rocket whistle through the air,
Sus donc, dépêchons nous, voici la pardonnance. Hurry up, and go to see the pardoning.
Il nous faudra demain visiter les saints lieux ; Tomorrow, we must go to visit the holy places.
La nous ferons l’amour, mais ce sera des yeux, There we will make love, but only with our eyes,
Car passer plus avant  c’est contre l’ordannance. Because to go further is against the rules.

* promener
** A name for a Clown, from the Italian tradition of Carnaval


Joachim du Bellay (1522-1560) has much the same position in French poetry as Sir Philip Sidney has in English. He was a leader of the innovative group “La Pleiade” with Ronsard, and developed the sonnet from its Italian originals as Sidney took it on from the French. He wrote La Defense et Illustration de la Langue Française which dealt with similar ideas to Sidney’s The Apologie for Poetrie (1580),  bringing poetry into the 16th century.  Here he writes about the commonplaces of everyday life rather than the chivalrous or courtly.

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