The Northern Way

Song and Legend From the Middle Ages

Page 8


Modern scholars separate the treatment of Provencal literature from that of French. It was written in a different dialect, was subject to somewhat different laws of development, and after a short period of activity died almost completely away.

Provencal literature is that produced in ancient Provence or Southern France. Its period of life extended from the eleventh to the fifteenth centuries, its middle and only important period being that of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. This literature contains examples of all the varieties of French literature of the Middle Ages, but the only work that is original and important is its lyric poetry. This was comosed by the troubadours (corresponding to the French trouvères) and sung by jongleurs or minstrels. The names of 460 Provencal poets and 251 anonymous pieces have come down to us. The one great them of troubadour singing---one, too, upon which he was original and a master---was that of passionate love. With this as subject, these poets united an eagerness for form, and were the first to perfect verse in any modern language.

Pierre Rogiers

Twelfth Century.

Who has not looked upon her brow

Has never dreamed of perfect bliss,

But once to see her is to know

What beauty, what perfection is.

Her charms are of the growth of heaven,

She decks the night with hues of day:

Blest are the eyes to which 't is given

On her to gaze the soul away!

----Tr. by Costello.

Guillem de Cabestanh.

Twelfth Century.

No, never since the fatal time

When the world fell for woman's crime,

Has Heaven in tender mercy sent---

All preordaining, all forseeing---

A breath of purity that lent

Existence to so fair a being!

Whatever earth can boast of rare,

Of precious, and of good,---

Gaze on her form, 't is mingled there,

With added grace endued.

Why, why is she so much above

All others whom I might behold,----

Whom I, unblamed, might dare to love,

To whom my sorrows might be told?

O, when I see her, passing fair,

I feel how vain is all my care:

I feel she all transcends my praise,

I feel she must contemn my lays:

I feel, alas! no claim have I

To gain that bright divinity!

Were she less lovely, less divine,

Less passion and despair were mine.

----Tr. by Costello

The Monk of Montaudon

Thirteenth Century

I love the court by wit and worth adorned,

A man whose errors are abjured and mourned,

My gentle mistress by a streamlet clear,

Pleasure, a handsome present, and good cheer.

I love fat salmon, richly dressed, at noon;

I love a faithful friend both late and soon.

I hate small gifts, a man that's poor and proud,

The young who talk incessantly and loud;

I hate in low-bred company to be,

I hate a knight that has not courtesy.

I hate a lord with arms to war unknown,

I hate a priest or monk with beard o'ergrown;

A doting husband, or a tradesman's son,

Who apes a noble, and would pass for one.

I hate much water and too little wine,

A prosperous villian and a false divine;

A niggard lout who sets the dice aside;

A flirting girl all frippery and pride;

A cloth too narrow, and a board too wide;

Him who exalts his handmaid to his wife,

And her who makes her groom her lord for life;

The man who kills his horse with wanton speed,

And him who fails his friend in time of need.

-----Tr. by Costello.

Pierre Vidal

End Twelfth Century.

Of all sweet birds, I love the most

The lark and nightingale:

For they the first of all awake,

The opening spring with songs to hail.

And I, like them, when silently

Each Troubadour sleeps on,

Will wake me up, and sing of love

And thee, Vierna, fairest one!

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