Foy Porter was one of the most famous songs of late medieval period. It was penned down by Guillaume de Machaut who was one of the most accomplished poets and composers of the 14th century.
Machaut was among the foremost exponents of the ‘Ars Nova’ style of musical composition which flourished in France and neighbouring regions during the 14th century.
Being both an excellent poet and composer, Machaut’s ‘Foy Porter’ is considered one of the best examples of the Ars Nova period.
Machaut wrote down the Foy Porter song at a time when secular music and poetry was becoming popular in Europe. Until the 12th and 13th centuries, most of the renowned poets of the day usually limited themselves to religious poetry. This was true also of composers who would limit themselves to ecclesiastical music.
By the 14th century, this had changes and secular poetry had spread from minstrels and troubadours to mainstream poets and composers. Most of the secular poetry and songs during Machaut’s time usually had chivalric and courtly love as its main theme. This is true of the Foy Porter song as well which deals with the expression of love by a courtly man towards a lady.
Machaut is known, in particular, for popularizing the virelai form of poetry. The virelai, alongside the ballade and rondeau, was already popular in 14th century France and other parts of Western Europe.
The Foy Porter song is also a virelai which Machaut wrote as a monophonic song. Being a master poet and composer, Machaut experimented with varying line lengths in this song in order to build the acoustic music of the poetry.
As a result, some of the Foy Porter lines are only three syllables in length while most are of the standard seven-syllable length. The song is noted for highly accomplished rhyme scheme which may have contributed to its enduring popularity.
In the song itself, the singer speaks of his deep love for the lady of his affections. The singer goes on to claim that his love was more overwhelming than the sea itself and that he could not forget his lady at any moment.
The song also makes a reference to the medieval belief that precious stones had healing powers. The singer says towards the end of the song that his lady is one true sapphire which can truly heal him and bring comfort to his heart. Like most other songs of the period, the Foy Porter song is entirely about chivalric and passionate courtly love.
Apart from being one of the best secular songs to have survived from the 14th century, the Foy Porter song is very significant as one of Machaut’s best achievements.
In this song, the poetic and musical brilliance of Machaut come together in the brief 33-line virelai. Machaut pays a meticulous attention to details such as the length of lines, duration of syllables and the rhetoric between the lines. It is this extraordinary display of poetic and musical craft that makes Foy Porter one of the choice pieces of medieval poetry.