IT is not easy to say how much of the interest of the new Provencal literature is due to the ancient dignity of its name, and to a kind of reflected lustre which it receives from the far-away glories of the old. Yet when we come to look carefully for the connection and resemblance between the two, we shall be surprised to find how slight these are. Nearly all the modern literatures of Europe owe as much to the early Provencal poetry as the literature of the troubadours’ land itself does. Nay, it has seemed until very lately as if France had been the smallest heir to the rich legacy of modern song, if not completely disinherited. The truth is that the literature of the troubadours, childish in spirit, but precociously mature and beautiful in form, perished early by violence and without issue. Aliens had already caught the spirit of it, and imitated its music with more or less success; but six hundred years were to elapse before a school of poetry would arise in which we might reasonably look for a true family-likeness to this the first untutored outburst of modern minstrelsy. The likeness may be traced, no doubt, but it is faint and fleeting. The early Provencal literature stands before us as something unique, integral, immortally youthful, and therefore unconscious of its own range and limitations, pathetic from the brevity of its course, a development of art without an exact parallel in the world’s history.
There has never been a more brilliant analysis of what may be called the technique of the troubadour poetry than Sismondi’s in his Literature of the South of Europe. He does no less than furnish a key to the whole mystery of modern versification , and whoever would study that versification as an art ought to bestow the most careful attention on Sismondi’s first four chapters. But even Sismondi has his prepossessions; and in particular we are inclined to think that he lays too much stress on the influence of the Arabs, at least over the forms of modern verse. There is no doubt that the frequent incursions of the Saracens into the south of France, during the three centuries preceding the year 1000, influenced powerfully the imagination of the inhabitants of Provence, and furnished them with subjects for an abundant balladliterature of a crude order, slight but sufficient traces of which remain. But the mutual aversion of Christian and Infidel was then at its height; the Macarabins or mixed Arabians, — Christian Goths, who under special circumstances accepted the amnesty of their Mussulman conquerors and lived peaceably under their sway, and on whose influence in diffusing Oriental culture Sismondi lays great stress, — were shunned as the vilest of apostates; and although these were the days of Haroun A1 Raschid and his son, A1 Mamoun, under whom every branch of Moorish art flourished amazingly, there seems no good reason to suppose that the Christians borrowed more from the Saracens in the department of poetry than they did in that of constructive architecture or general decoration. There are words of Arabian origin in the Romance language, and there are many more of Greek origin, preserved from that long period of Greek occupation and civilization which antedated even the Roman conquest. But the language as a whole remains Latin, modified by the speech of the northern barbarians, and the first of a family of such languages to produce a literature.
And as with the form of this literature, so with its substance and inspiration. We have elsewhere traced what seems to us the unbroken descent — through the Latin hymnology of the earlier Middle Age — of the troubadour measures, in which, as in all modern verse, the effect depends upon accent, while in classic measures the effect depends upon quantity. It is possible, although by no means, certain, that the first idea of those terminal rhymes which were destined to play so important a part in the new poetry may have been derived from Oriental compositions, of which they were a conspicuous ornament. But at all events, it was in the cell of the Christian monk that the seeds of poetic as of all other culture were kept and fostered as carefully as the flowers of the convent-garden, through the troubled season of the first Christian millennium. During that most dreary time of transition, Christianity was slowly spreading among the half-savage races which had replaced the Romans and their colonists in the south of Europe, and adopting and assimilating to itself certain of the native barbarian ideas. Prominent among these was that serious, almost superstitious respect for woman which seems a birthright of the northern nations. It was a notion wholly at variance with the view of classic paganism, but one which the spirit of Christianity favored. The grand primitive passion, the love of man for woman, received a sort of theoretic consecration, and the virgin mother of Jesus Christ became one of the chief objects of public worship. And then in the period of reaction and exhilaration which followed the close of the tenth century and the relief from that harrowing presentiment of the end of the world and the last judgment which had prevailed almost every where as the first millennial year approached, at the time also of the final repulse of the Saracens in the southwest, then, if ever, chivalry, or the adventurous service of God and womankind, took systematic shape, and the Crusades were its first outgrowth in action, and the love-poetry of the troubadours, or minstrels of the south, its first symmetrical expression in art.
Many volumes have been written on the position and profession of the troubadour; charming volumes, too, which are accessible to almost every reader. Yet when all is gathered which can be certainly known, how strange a phenomenon he remains to our modern eyes! How much is still left to the imagination! We know that he was usually attached to the household of a great seignior or the court of a reigning sovereign, and was a frequent, though, as it would seem, voluntary attendant on their distant expeditious. We know that it was his métier, or at any rate a principal part of it, to select some lady as the object, for the time being, of his formal worship, and to celebrate her charms and virtues in those melodious numbers, the secret of whose infinitely variable beauty he himself never ceased to regard as a kind of miraculous discovery or revelation. We know that while the singer was sometimes even of kingly rank, oftener a poor cavalier who had need to live upon his skill in finding, and oftener yet a man of humble birth whom genius was readily allowed to ennoble, the ladylove was almost always of exalted station; frequently, by the operation of the Salic law, a great heiress in her own right; and that hence her hand was certain to have been disposed of for prudential or political reasons before she had any choice in the matter. There were reasons, therefore, besides total depravity, why she was regularly a married woman. We know that, theoretically, chivalric love was a something mystical and supersensual; but that the courts of love sanctioned much which the courts of law, even of those days, forbade. We know that a seignior and a husband could regard with complacency, not to say pride, the ceremonial devotion of his vassal to his wife; yet that he was liable to be visited, when all things appeared most picturesque and prosperous, by movements of what we cannot help regarding as a natural jealousy, and impulses to deadly revenge. We know that in the great majority of cases there came a “ sombre close ” to the troubadour’s “voluptuous day,” and that his life of amatory adventure and artificially stimulated emotion was apt to end in the shadow of the cloister. We seem, in fine, to see him as an airy, graceful, insouciant figure, who sports and sings along a dainty path, skirting the sheer and lofty verge of the great gulf of human passion; and the student will probably decide, from his own knowledge of human nature, in what proportion of cases he kept his perilous footing upon the flowery heights, and in what he plunged headlong into the raging deeps below.
So much for the man; and now a word or two more about his work. Let it be understood that we are to speak of the chansons or love-songs chiefly. There is another great body of troubadour literature, coming under the general head of sirventes and comprising narrative and satirical poems, which, though full and overfull of suggestions about the manners of the time, have, as a rule, no great literary merit. The chief wonder of the chansons is, and must ever be, the contrast between the consummate beauty and immense variety of their forms, and the simplicity, the sameness, and the frequent triviality of their sentiments. In this respect troubadour poetry is like Greek sculpture. The technical excellence of it is so incredible that we cannot help regarding it as something spontaneous, half-unconscious, — found, as the troubadours themselves so strikingly said, rather than learned, — which no care and patience of deliberate effort could ever quite have attained. Sismondi complains of the monotony of the troubadour compositions; that they begin by amazing and end by disappointing the student. But they can disappoint, it seems to us, only him who is predetermined to seek for more than is in them. It is little to say that they show no depth of thought. They oontain hardly any thought at all. The love of external nature is represented in them alone by the poet’s perennial rapture at the return of spring; spring, which terminated his winter confinement and set him free to wander over the sunny land; spring, with its mysterious but everlastingly intimate association with thoughts of love. Of sensuous imagery of any kind these poems contain very little, which is another reason for distrusting the theory of Arabian origin and influence. They are “ all compact ” of primary emotion, of sentiment pure and simple; and, as such, they rank in the scale of expression between music and ordinary poetry, partaking almost as much of the nature of the former as of the latter, which again is one reason why, although the rules of their language are simple, these lyrics are often so very obscure,—so elusive, rather, and intangible in their meaning. Their words are like musical notes, not so much signs of thought as symbols of feeling, which almost defy an arbitrary interpretation, and must be rendered in part by the temperament of the performer.
And herein will be found our excuse, or rather our reason, for having, in the versions which we have attempted, preserved at all hazards the measure and movement of the originals, the lines of widely varying length, the long-sustained and strangely distributed rhymes. The reader who cares to examine these originals — to which he is referred — will find the rendering not always close, according to the present high standard of accuracy; but where form is so wonderfully paramount to sense, a likeness in form seems of the first importance, and the rest has to come somewhat as Heaven pleases. Strictly speaking, however, some of these versions, at least, should rather be called paraphrases.
Our selections have been made, with one or two exceptions, from Raynouard’s Choix des Poésies originales des Troubadours, first published in 1816, or three years later than Sismondi’s analysis of the structure of the troubadour verse. In a note to one of his later editions, Sismondi expresses himself as disappointed in many ways in the collection of Raynouard; chiefly because, like other bodies of elegant extracts, it shows little of the coarser side of the Provencal poetry, and thus fails to illustrate its range. Out of the two or three hundred poets whom Raynouard specifies, we, however, shall have mentioned in this series of articles barely a score, and may certainly be pardoned for having selected those of their strains which we found most delicate and sweet, and which seemed to us to exhibit, with the least defacement from the license of the time, the sublimated ideal of that lisping, short-lived school of song.1 We have also preferred those authors whose names are most associated with contemporary history, and if we dared hope that our imperfect versions might evoke around the reader anything resembling the Corôtlike atmosphere haunted by simple birdnotes, with which we felt ourselves invested during the dark winter-days while we were transcribing them, we should be more than content.
It is matter for rejoicing that the first of the troubadours whose works are well authenticated was a sovereign who figured somewhat conspicuously in the history of his time, so that his most important piece can be exactly dated, and the rest approximately. The ease and finish of William of Poitiers’s versification, and the fact that his was a life of constant war and crowded adventure, in which poetry can have been only a pastime, forbid us to suppose that he was really the father of Provencal song. But although, as the editor of Sainte Palaye dryly observes in the notice of William in his Histoire littéraire des Troubadours, it is the quality of the poetry that concerns us, not that of the poet, it is doubtless to the quality of the poet that we owe the preservation of the poetry.
William IX., Count of Poitiers and Duke of Aquitaine, was born in 1071, and succeeded in his fifteenth year to the sovereignty of a region comprising, besides Gascony and the northern half of Aquitaine, Limousin, Berry, and Auvergne. He grew up bold in war, unscrupulous in wit, and unbridled in love, a man of many crimes, but famed for the courtesy of his manners, and capable of generous and even pious retours, as the French call them. He is, in fact, one of the first distinctly knight - like figures we have, a character of which the strong tints and picturesque outlines yet stand out clearly from the faded canvas of history. Of the many anecdotes preserved concerning him we give, on the authority of William of Malmesbury, one which piquantly illustrates his usual attitude toward the clergy and the church. In William’s forty-third year, the Bishop of Poitiers excommunicated him on account of one of the many scandals with which his name was associated. When the bishop began his formula, William fiercely drew his sword and threatened to kill him if he went on. The prelate made a feint of pausing, and then hurriedly pronounced the rest of the sentence. “ And now you may strike,” said he, “for I have done.” “ No,” replied William, coolly putting up his sword, “I don’t like you well enough to send you to Paradise! ” Many of William’s amatory poems are unfit for translation, and there is too much reason to suppose that they describe adventures of his own; but some are wholly noble and refined, and seem to show that the fine ideal of chivalric love was already formed even in so stormy a breast as William’s. We give a specimen of one of these last. It is in the favorite spring key: —
The orchard-bloom is seen again,
Of sky and stream the mien again
Is mild, is bright;
Now should each heart that loves obtain
Its own delight.
However slight my guerdon prove :
Repining doth not me behoove ;
And yet—to know
How lightly she I fain would move
Might bliss bestow!
Because with little hope I wait;
But one old saw doth animate
And me assure:
Their hearts are high, their might is great,
Who well endure.
Almost alone of the great nobles of Southern Europe, William resisted the call of Raymond of Toulouse to the first Crusade in 1095, but when, in 1099, the great news arrived of the capture of Jerusalem, and an appeal was made for the reënforcement of the small garrison left in the Holy Land, William was overcome and prepared to go; and the second of his pieces which we have attempted to render was composed early in the year 1101, on the eve of his departure : —
Yet sorrowful must my song be.
No more pay I my fealty
In Limousin or Poitiers.
And leave my son to stormy war,
To fear and peril, for they are
No friends who dwell about him there,
That Poitiers I see no more,
And Fulk of Anjou must implore
To guard his kinsman and my heir ?
And he who made me knight,4 I wot
Many against the boy will plot,
Deeming him well-nigh in despair.
And gay and ready for enterprise,
Gascons and Angevins will rise,
And him into the dust will bear.
But we are sundered all the same.
I go to him in whose great name
Confide all sinners everywhere.
My heart, all pride of steed or state,
To him on whom the pilgrims wait,
Without more tarrying I repair.
If aught of wrong I thee have done !
I lift to Jesus on his throne,
In Latin and Romance, my prayer.
Till my Lord spake and me forbade;
But now the end is coming sad,
Nor can I more my burden bear.
Pay me due honor where I he ;
Tell how in love and luxury
I triumphed still, or here or there.
But farewell now, love, luxury
And silken robes, and minnevair! s
The suggestions of this naive lament are almost infinite. In the first place, it is impossible to doubt that it came straight from the heart of the writer, and expresses without the faintest disguise his conflicting emotions. As the outburst of a reckless, vehement, voluptuous nature, under a sort of moral arrest or conviction, it is touchingly frank. A second summons to the Holy Land had come, one which it would be palpable dishonor to disregard. If the going thither might serve by way of expiation of former sins of sense and violence, the ducal poet felt bound to go, since he had more upon his conscience in that way than he could comfortably sustain. But he makes not the faintest pretense to enthusiasm, religious or other. It is grievous to him to leave his own realms, the scene of all his pleasures and triumphs. He really loved his child and would have enjoyed superintending his education in knightly exercises, and to abandon him to the attacks and encroachments of jealous neighbors was intolerable. It is evident also that he put no very implicit faith in the disinterestedness either of his seignior or of Fulk of Anjou. Never did his homelife look more alluring, and the notion of turning his back upon it at the Lord’s behest was altogether melancholy. He feels that he cannot long survive such a sacrifice, yet that he has hardly a choice about making it. The allusion in the eighth stanza, apparently to his comrade in arms, is positively tender, and the impulse which leads him to request in the closing lines that he may be honored after his death for those things in which he did really delight and excel is almost droll in its honesty. We have lingered the longer over these personal revelations because they are, after all, the soul of literary history, and we shall find only too little of the sort in most of the remaining songs which we shall cite. It remains to add that William’s presentiment of martyrdom was not realized. He escaped the manifold disasters of the campaign of 1101, and returned within two years to his native land. With characteristic levity, he afterwards applied himself, in the brief intervals of his struggles with Alphonse Jourdain for the possession of Toulouse, to the composition of a long narrative poem in which he seems to have detailed in a rather humorous fashion the events of that tragic Syrian campaign; but the poem, though frequently mentioned, has not been preserved. He died in 1127 at the age of fifty-six.
Very little is known concerning the life and character of Marcabrun, the author of our next specimen. The question has even been raised whether the Crusade mentioned in this little sirvente were the Crusade of 1147 or that of St. Louis, preached in 1269. The former is more probable. The Louis named in the fourth stanza was presumably Louis VII., the first husband of Queen Eleanor of England, who accompanied him on this Crusade, and Marcabrun must therefore have been contemporary, for a few years at least, with William of Poitiers. In the twenty or more pieces ascribed to him, there are but few allusions to love, and Marcabrun alone, of all the troubadours, is not known ever to have been himself a subject of the tender passion. The contrast is curious between the highly artificial structure of the following verses—one rhyme five times repeated and the others separated by the length of an entire stanza — and the extreme simplicity and obviousness of the sentiments.
Green turf and garden walks ; in spring
A glory of white blossoming
Shines underneath its guardian tree,
And new-come birds old music sing ;
And there, alone and sorrowing
I found a maid I could not cheer,
The daughter of the castle’s lord ;
Methought the melody outpoured
By all the birds unceasingly,
The season sweet, the verdant sward,
Might gladden her, and eke my word
Her grief dismiss, would she but hear.
With sorry sighs her heart did swell.
“ O Jesus, king invisible,”
She cried, “ of thee is my distress !
Through thy deep wrong bereft I dwell.
Earth’s best have bidden us farewell,
On thee at thine own shrine to wait.
The free, fair, gentle, valiant one ;
So what can I but make my moan?
And how the sad desire suppress
That Louis’ name were here unknown?
The prayers, the mandates, all undone
Whereby I am made desolate ? ”
Moving the limpid wave anigh,
“ Weep not, fair maid, so piteously,
Nor waste thy roses ! ” thus I cried ;
“ Neither despair, for he is by
Who wrought this leafy greenery,
And he will give thee joy one day.”
“ Of God I shall be comforted
In yonder world when I am dead,
And many a sinful soul beside ;
But now hath he prohibited
My chief delight. I bow my head,
But heaven is very far away.”
Even more studied in structure, but also more musical, than the above are the few love-poems of Peter of Auvergne, who was born near the time of William of Poitiers’s death, and whose career of nearly a century, lasting at least until 1214, won for him the surname of the Ancient. In the old manuscript Lives of the Troubadours 6 Peter of Auvergne is described as having risen by his genius from a humble station to be the favored companion of princes. “He made,” observes the monkish historian, “ better-sounding verses than had ever been made before his time, especially one famous verse about the short days and long nights. He made no song [chanson], for at that time no poems were called songs, but verses, and Sir Giraud de Borneil made the first chanson that ever was made. But he was graced and honored by all worthy men and women, and was held to be the best troubadour in the world before the days of Giraud de Borneil. He praised himself and his own songs a great deal, and blamed the other troubadours,” — both of which assertions his remains abundantly confirm; “and,” adds the biographer, who occasionally makes a parade of citing an authority, “ the Dauphin of Auvergne, who was born in his day, has told me that he lived long and honorably in the world, and finally went into his order and died.” A few verses out of the longest and most elaborate of Peter’s love-lyrics will suffice as a specimen of his manner: —
Hie thee, nightingale, away,
Tidings of her lover telling,
Waiting what herself will say ;
Make thee ’ware
How she doth fare,
Then, her shelter spurning,
Do not be,
On any plea,
Let from thy returning.
Show her mien, her state, I pray !
All for her is my heart swelling ;
Comrades, kindred, what are they ?
Through the air,
All thy lesson learning !”
Lighted on her beauty’s ray,
Song from out his throat came welling,
As though night had turned to day.
Then and there
He did forbear,
Until well discerning
Hear would she,
All his tale of yearning.
And so on through the three stanzas of the poet’s formal message to his lady, as delivered by the bird. The text is very obscure in parts, and is given with unusual variations by different compilers, and the reiterated rhyme grows wellnigh impossible to imitate, ever so remotely. In the seventh stanza, where the lady’s answer begins, a second set of rhymes is adopted, and this is preserved through the latter half of the poem.
All that is known of Guirand le Roux, the author of our next specimen, is very interesting, and intimately associates the poet’s name with some of the famous persons and events of his time. The manuscript Lives of the Troubadours contain only this brief notice of him: “ Girandos le Rox was of Toulouse, the son of a poor cavalier who came to serve at the court of his seignior, the Count Alphonse. He was courteous and a fine singer, and became enamored of the countess, the daughter of his seignior, and the love which he bore her taught him howto find [trobar], and he made many verses.” Now the Count Alphonse here mentioned was Alphonse Jourdain, second son of Raymond de Saint Gilles, the ardent and self-devoted captain of the first Crusade. Alphonse himself was born in the Holy Land and baptized by his father in the Jordan, whence his surname. Raymond, as is well known, took a vow to die where Christ had died, and performed it; and his elder son Bertrand followed his example, resigning the county of Toulouse to his brother Alphonse, then a lad of thirteen or fourteen, when he left for Syria in 1109. For ten years our old friend William of Poitiers disputed with varying fortune the right of Alphonse to Toulouse. After this the latter, having established his claim, reigned in peace until he himself fulfilled the family destiny by joining the second Crusade; and the poems of Guirand le Roux all belong to the period between 1120 and 1147, the date of that Crusade; probably, also, to the last ten years of that period. As for Guirand’s lady-love, the only daughter of Alphonse mentioned in trustworthy history is a natural one, who accompanied her father to the Holy Land and there became the wife, or a wife, of Sultan Noureddin, and the heroine of some wonderfully romantic adventures. And though Sainte Palaye, or his editor, insists that a natural daughter never had the title of countess, and even persuades himself of a certain Faidide married to Humbert III. of Sicily, there is little reason for doubting the identity of Guirand’s mistress with the brilliant heroine of Eastern story. At all events, he, almost alone of the troubadours, loved one woman only, and sang of love exclusively, in strains of unfailing dignity and refinement. Here is one, of which the high-flown devotion, whimsical but not unmanly, reminds us a little of the latest and noblest lyrics of chivalry, the melodies of Lovelace, Wotton, and Montrose. Observe, as in our last specimen, the rhymes corresponding in successive stanzas: —
Come, lady, to my song incline,18
The last that shall assail thine ear.
None other cares my strains to hear,
And scarce thou feign’st thyself therewith delighted ; Nor know I well if I am loved or slighted ;
But this I know, tho.u radiant one and sweet,
That, loved or spurned, I die before thy feet!
Yea, I will yield this life of mine
In very deed, if cause appear,
Without another boon to cheer.
Honor it is to be by thee incited
To any deed ; and I, when most benighted
By doubt, remind me that times change and fleet,
And brave men still do their occasion meet
Thus far we have quoted minor poets only, but our next name is one of the most illustrious in Provencal literature. The long and conspicuous life of Bernard of Ventadorn — or Vent ad our — teems with historic associations, and the works which he has left would fill a volume by themselves. We must confine ourselves to the briefest outline of his life, resisting the temptation of its fascinating details, and to a few passages taken almost at random from poems which are fairly embarrassing from the abundance of their beauty.
In Bernard we have once more, as so often among the troubadours, the association of lowly birth with lovely gifts. He was a son of the baker at the castle Ventadorn, the seat of the viscounts of that name, long famous among the petty sovereigns of Southern France for their enthusiastic patronage of the poetic art. Bernard’s own seignior was Ebles III., of whom the Prior of Vigeois records, in his chronicle, that he “ loved even to old age the songs of alacrity” (“ usque ad senectam Carmina alacritatis dilexit ”). But Bernard was forty years old when Ebles died, consequently the latter was yet in his early prime when Bernard was born at Ventadorn, not far from the year 1130, and he speedily discovered and carefully cultivated the boy’s talent. The not unnatural result was that the young troubadour selected, as the object of his melodious homage, the youthful second wife of Ebles, Adelaide of Montpellier. And here let the monkish biographer take up the tale : " She [Adelaide] was a very lively and gentle lady, and was highly delighted with Bernard’s songs, so that she became enamored of him and he of her. . . . And their love had lasted a good while before her husband perceived it, but when he did he was angry and had the lady very closely watched and guarded, wherefore she dismissed Bernard, and he went quite out of the country. He betook himself to the Duchess of Normandy, who was illustrious and much admired and well versed in matters of fame and honor, and knew how to award praise. And the songs of Bernard pleased her mightily, wherefore she gave him a most cordial welcome, and he resided at her court a long time, and was in love with her and she with him; and he made many fine songs about it. But while he was staying with her, the King of England, her husband, removed her from Normandy, and Bernard remained here, sad and sorrowful.” Now this second royal lady - love of our aspiring poet was none other than the celebrated Eleanor, president of one of the most illustrious of the courts of love, the granddaughter of William of Poitiers, the divorced wife of Henry VII. of France, the wife of Henry II. of England, the merciless but by no means immaculate censor of the fair Rosamond Clifford, and the mother of Richard Cœur de Lion. When Bernard entered her service, in 1152, Eleanor was thirtythree years old, and fully ten years the senior both of the troubadour and of her husband, Henry II. But her beauty was perennial; she had other charms which did not depend upon the freshness of youth, and her personal prestige was destined to last unweakened for many a long year, and to survive extraordinary vicissitudes of lot. If Bernard were ever profoundly in earnest, he would seem to have been so in some of the lines which he addressed to Eleanor; but he was a very troubadour of the troubadours in his constant mingling of levity and tenderness, of graceful insouciance with keen and sudden pathos. Our first extract belongs to Adelaide’s time, and though sufficiently far from simple, these verses have in them something of the fresh enthusiasm, half-confident and half-jealous, of a first experience: —
Better than other minstrels all;
For more than they am I love’s thrall,
And all myself therein I fling, —
Knowledge and sense, body and soul,
And whatso power I have beside ;
The rein that doth my being guide
Impels me to this only goal.
Love’s odor, sweet and magical ;
His life doth ever on him pall
Who knoweth not that blessed thing;
Yea, God, who doth my life control,
Were cruel did he bid me bide
A month, or even a day, denied
The love whose rapture I extol.
Of that sweet odor! At its call
An hundred times a day I fall
And faint, an hundred rise and sing !
So fair the semblance of my dole,
‘T is lovelier than another’s pride ;
If such the ill doth me betide,
Good hap were more than I could thole !
True swains from false, great hearts from small !
The traitor in the dust bid crawl,
The faithless to confession bring !
Ah, if I were the master sole
Of all earth’s treasures multiplied,
To see my lady satisfied
Of my pure faith, I 'd give the whole !
And here are some fugitive strains out of that ever-recurring spring melody which no singer tried oftener or executed more sweetly than Bernard of Ventadorn.
And vernal meads grow gay with flowers,
And aye with singing loud and clear
The nightingale fulfills the hours,
I joy in him and joy in every flower
And in myself, and in my lady more.
For when joys do inclose me and invest,
My joy in her transcendeth all the rest.
The following exhales the true spring sadness: —
When opening buds proclaim the spring,
And, in the thickening boughs, their chime
The birds do late and early ring.
Ah, then anew
The yearning cometh strong
For bliss more true,
Whose lack my soul doth wrong,
Which, if I have not, I must die erelong!
The next is not quite so tender: —
And the sun’s rays are dazzling grown and strong,
And birds do voice their vows in melody
And woo each other sweetly all day long,
And all the world sways to love’s influence,
Thou only art unwilling to be won,
Proud beauty, in whose train I mope and moan
Denied, and seem but half a man to be.
Then there is a very fanciful little piece in an odd but melodious measure, which runs thus : —
All thing change their seeming ;
All with flowers — white, blue, carnation —
Hoary frosts are teeming;
Storm and flood but make occasion
For my happy scheming;
Welcome is my song’s oblation,
Praise outruns my dreaming.
Oh, ay ! this heart of mine
Owns a rapture so divine
Winter doth in blossoms shine,
Snow with verdure gleaming !
Steadfast faith upbore me ;
She for whom I so have striven
Seems to hover o'er me ;
All the joys that she hath given
Memory can restore me ;
All the days I saw her, even,
Gladden evermore me.
Ah, yes ! I love in bliss;
All my being tends to this;
Yea, although her sight I miss,
And in France doplore me.
I might come unto thee,
Come by night where thou art lying,
Verily I 'd sue thee,
Dear and happy lady, crying,
I must die or woo thee,
Though my soul dissolve in sighing
And my fears undo me.
Evermore thy grace of yore
I with folded hands adore,
On thy glorious colors pore
Till despair goes through me.
This threatens to become commonplace. Nevertheless the whole of the lyric sings itself in a very remarkable manner; and the remainder, which need not be inflicted on the reader, is interesting from an allusion it contains to the story of Tristram and Iseult, with which the poet probably became acquainted in Normandy, and the date of which is thus removed as far back at least as the middle of the twelfth century. We now subjoin, though with much diffidence, from our conscious inability to do them justice, portions of two songs in Bernard’s most perfect style, both of which appear to have been addressed to Eleanor, the one perhaps while she was yet in Normandy, the other after her departure for England.
The sky-lark soaring to the sun,
Till e'en with rapture faltering
He sinks in glad oblivion,
Alas, how fain to seek were I
The same ecstatic fate of fire !
Yea, of a truth I know not why
My heart melts not with its desire !
Of love. Alas, my lore was none !
For helpless now my praise I bring
To one who still that praise doth shun,
One who hath robbed me utterly
Of soul, of self, of life entire,
So that my heart can only cry
For that it ever shall require.
Since the first hour, so long agone,
When to thine eyes bewildering,
As to a mirror, I was drawn.
There let me gaze until I die ;
So doth my soul of sighing tire
As at the fount, in days gone by,
The fair Narcissus did expire.
The metre of the next is more constraining: —
From where thy country lies,
Meseems I am foreknowing
The airs of Paradise.
So is my heart o'erflowing
For that fair one and wise,
Who hath my glad bestowing
Of life’s whole energies,
For whom I agonize
The fair and haughty eyes,
Which, all my will o'erthrowing,
Made me their sacrifice.
Whatever mien thou ‘rt showing,
Why should I this disguise ?
Yet let me ne’er be ruing
One of thine old replies:
Man’s daring wins the prize,
But fear is his undoing.
We come now to the name of William of Cabestaing, and the reader is requested to accept for just what it is worth the tragic tradition of him and his lady-love. Incredible as the tale appears, it is given with but trifling variations by an unusual number of writers, and in the absence of all conflicting testimony we, at least, shall not attempt to mar its horrible unity. Listen to the ancient biographer: —
“ William of Cabestaing was a cavalier of the country of Rossillon, which borders on Catalonia and Narbonne. He was a very attractive man in person, and accomplished in arms and courtesy and service. Now in his country there was a lady called Lady Soremonda ” (elsewhere she is called Margaret), “ the wife of Raymond of Castle Rossillon ; and Raymond was high-born and evil-minded, brave and fierce, rich and proud. And William of Cabestaing loved the lady exceedingly and made songs about her, and the lady, who was young and gay, noble and fair, cared more for him than for any one else in the world. And this was told to Raymond of Castle Rossillon, who, being a jealous and passionate man, made inquiries and found that it was true, and set a watch over his wife. And there came a day when Raymond saw William pass with but few attendants, and he killed him. Then he had his head cut off, and the heart taken out of his body. And the head he had carried to his castle, and the heart he had cooked and seasoned, and gave it to his wife to eat. And when the lady had eaten it, Raymond of Castle Rossillon said to her, ‘ Do you know what you have eaten? ’ She said, ‘ No, except that it was a very good and savory viand.’ Then he told her that it was the heart of William of Cabestaing which she had eaten, and to convince her he made them show her the head, which when the lady saw and heard she swooned, but presently came to herself and said, ' My lord, you have given me such excellent food that I shall eat no more at all.’ When he heard this he sprang upon her with his sword drawn and would have smitten her upon the head, but she ran to the balcony and flung herself over, and perished on the spot. The tidings flew through Rossillon and all Catalonia that William of Cabestaing and the lady had come to this dreadful end, and that Raymond had given William’s heart to the lady to eat. And there was great sorrow and mourning in all that region, and at last the story was told to the King of Aragon, who was the seignior both of Raymond of Castle Rossillon and of William of Cabestaing. Then the king went to Perpignan, in Rossillon, and summoned Raymond to appear before him. And when Raymond was come the king had him seized, and took away from him all his castles and everything else which he had, and caused the castles to be destroyed, and put him in prison. But William of Cabestaing and the lady he had conveyed to Perpignan and buried under a monument before the door of the church, and the manner of their death he had depicted on the monument, and gave orders that all the ladies and cavaliers in the country of Rossillon should visit the monument every year. And Raymond of Castle Rossillon died miserably in the King of Aragon’s prison.” This king must have been Alphonse II., who held the suzerainty of Rossillon in 1181, and who had no successor of his own name upon the throne of Aragon for nearly two hundred years. The severity of the punishment which he inflicted marks the deep impression made by Raymond’s brutal revenge, and the extraordinary loathing which it excited. The story was too fascinating in its horror not to be repeated with other names, and accordingly we have the tale of Raoul (or Renard), Châtelain de Coucy, who died at the siege of Acre in 1192 and in his last moments requested the friend who attended him to have his heart preserved and to carry it home to his mistress, the Lady of Fayel. The Lord of Fayel intercepted the relic and followed the example of Raymond of Rossillon, and the lady starved herself to death. De Coucy’s commission was a probable one enough, and accords with the reckless romanticism of the time; but the end of the story is doubtless borrowed from that of the lovers of Rossillon. Read by the lurid light of this monstrous tale, the verses of William of Cabestaing seem animated by a peculiarly personal force and intensity, and if the reader does not discover this in the following specimens, he may consider the translator to blame: —
The stateliest flower of all to cull;
So on life’s topmost bough sojourns
My lady, the most beautiful !
Whom with his own nobility
Our Lord hath graced, so she may move
In glorious worth our lives above,
Yet soft with all humility.
And won my fealty long ago ;
My heart’s-blood stronger impulse took,
Freshening my colors ; and yet so,
No otherwise discovering
My love, I bode. Now, lady mine,
At last, before thy throngèd shrine,
I also lay my offering.
The next is more fervid and exalted:
Which thy love giveth me
Still bid me render
My vows in song to thee ;
Gracious and slender
Thine image I can see,
Where’er I wend, or
What eyes do look on me.
Yea, in the frowning face
Of uttermost disgrace,
Proud would I take my place
Before thy feet,
Lady, whose aspect sweet
Doth my poor self efface,
And leave but joy and praise.
The memory of thine eyes ?
Evermore by me
Thy lithe; white form doth rise.
If God were nigh me
Alway, in so sure wise,
Quick might I hie me
Into his Paradise!
This was, perhaps, the strain which the troubadour was trying on the day when Raymond overtook him “ followed by but few attendants.”
Harriet W. Preston .
- And it need hardly be said that so far as we have treated this poetry at all, we have treated it seriously. Like all modes of exclusively sentimental expression, it is easily open to ridicule, but the entire literature can hardly have partaken in its day of the nature of a joke. Those, however, who desire to see it travestied with considerable ability, and the stories of its chief masters flippantly and amusingly told from a thoroughly modern and rather vulgar point of view, are recommended to a little book entitled, The Troubadours : their Loves and Lyrics, by John Rutherford, published in London by Smith and Elder, 1873.↩
- “ Pus vezem novelh florir,” etc. (Raynouard, vol. v., p. 117.)↩
- Pus de chantar m’es pres talens,”etc. (Raynouard, vol. iv., p. 83.)↩
- Philip I. of France, William’s suzerain.↩
- The movement of these two specimens is almost the same, but William was master of a variety of measures, and sometimes managed trochaic verse with great skill, as in the song beginning “ Farai cansoneta nova.”↩
- “ A la fontana del nergier,” etc. (Raynouard, vol. iii., p. 375. )↩
- Of these there are two collections, made by the monks and still preserved in the original manuscripts. One of these was made in the twelfth century, by Carmentière, a monk of the Isles of Thiers, under the direction of Alphonso II., King of Aragon and Count of Provence. The other was made near the close of the fourteenth century by a Genoese, called The Monk of the Isles of Gold, who completed and corrected the work of Carmentière. In 1576 Jean Nostradamus compiled from these and other sources his rather apocryphal Lives of the Provencal Poets, and Crescimbeni in his Stória della Volgar Poesie has made a good selection from Nostradamus.↩
- “ Rossinhol en son repaire,” etc. (Parnasse Occitanien, page 138.)↩
- “ Aniatz la derreira chanso.” (Raynouard vol. iii., p. 12.)↩
- “ Non est merevelha s’ieu chan,” etc. (Raynouard, vol. iii., p. 44.)↩
- “ Quand erba vertz e fuelha par,” etc. (Raynonard, vol. iii,, p. 53.)↩
- “ Bela m'es qu' ieu chant in aiselh mes,” etc. (Raynouard, vol. iii., p. 77.)↩
- “ Quand la fuelha sobre l'albre s'espan,” etc. (Raynouard, vol. iii., p. 49.)↩
- “ Tant ai moa cor plen de joya,” etc. (Parnasss Occitanien, page 7.)↩
- “ Quand vei la laudeta mover,”etc. (Raynonard, vol iii., p. 68.)↩
- “ Quand la dosò aura venta.” (Raynouard, vol. iii., p. 84)↩
- “ Aissi cum selh que laissa 'l fuelh.”(Raynouard, vol. iii., p. 113.)↩
- “ La dous consire.”(Raynouard, vol. iii.)↩