Jun 17, 2012

A Selection of Medieval Courtly Love Poems


Arnaut, Daniel. Complete Works.
Bernart de Ventadorn. "When I see the lark beating." trans. Craig E. Bertolet Poetry Chaikhana.

Giraut de Bornelh,. "Reis glorios." Poetry Chaikhana.
Chaytor, H.J. The Troubadours, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1912.
Guilhem IX of Poitou. "Joyous in love, I make my aim" trans. J. Lindsay. Poetry Chaikhana.

Arnaut Daniel

The firm desire that enters

The firm desire that enters
Can neither be taken from my heart by beak or nail
Of that liar who loses his soul through speaking evil,
And since I dare not beat him with either a branch or rod,
I will in some secret place, where I will have no spying uncle,
Rejoice with my joy, in a garden or in a chamber.

But when I am reminded of that chamber
Where I know, to my sorrow, that no man enters
And which is guarded more than by brother or uncle,
My entire body trembles, even to my fingernail,
As does a child before a rod,
Such fear I have of not being hers with all my soul.

At least in body, if not in soul,
Let her hide me within her chamber;
For it wounds my heart more than blows of rod
That her slave can never therein enter.
I will always close to her as flesh and nail,
And believe no warnings of friend or uncle.

Even the sister of my uncle
I never loved so much, with all my soul!
As close as is the finger to the nail,
If it please her, I would be in her chamber.
It can mold me to its will, this love that enters
My heart, more so than a strong man with a tender rod.

Since flowered the dry rod,
Or from Adam descended the nephew and uncle,
There never was such a love as what enters
My heart, dwelling neither in body or in soul
And wherever she may be, outside in the street, or in her chamber,
My heart is no farther than the length of my nail.

As if with tooth and nail
My heart grips her, holding as the bark on the rod;
To me she is joy's tower, palace, and chamber
And I love neither brother, parent or uncle
So much; and I will find double joy in Paradise for my soul
If a man blessed for good love therein enters.

Arnaut sends his song of nail and uncle,
By the grace of her who has, of his rod, the soul,
To his Desired One, whose praise all chambers enters.

If love were so bountiful in gifting me with joy
as I am to it in having a firm and sincere heart,
I wouldn't mind to run my weary days
my love's so high that hope lifts and steadies me;
and when I ponder how her value's overwhelming
much I love that I dared just to want her,
since now I know that my heart and my feelings
will make me do, as is their use, a bountiful conquest. 

And I don't care if I have to wait for long
because I have reached and hold such a rich place
where her fair words keep me full of joy;
and I'll keep on until I'm interred,
since I'm not one to leave gold for lead;
and since there's nothing in her to be improved,
I'll be her obedient servant
until, kissing, if she pleases, she clothes me in her love. 

A happy waiting refreshes and relieves me
of the heavy sighs that grieve my sides,
lightly I get the pain and the suffering, and bear it,
since, as far as beauty goes, the others are in a chasm,
and the fairest seems to have fallen
lower than her, and it is true, to the eye of the one who sees her,
since she has all good virtues: knowledge and wisdom
reign in her, and none is missing. 

Since she's so precious, do you think my desire
will fade, or part or waste?
I won't be hers, nor mine own, if I leave her,
let him who showed up in the shape of a dove help me!
In all the World there's no man of any name
to crave so well a great good
like I do her, and I don't care
for the slanderers, to whom lover's harm is joy. 

False slanderers, may fire burn your tongues
and may you lose both your eyes to cancer;
horses and brands are lost for your cause,
you that place love so down that it barely keeps from falling entirely:
may God confound you!- and I can tell you why,
because you make the lovers curse and hate you;
it's an evil star that keeps you ignorant
the more you are scolded, the worse you get. 

Lady Better-Than-Good, don't be loth:
you'll find me all hoary and still loving you,
since I have neither heart nor strength to free myself
from my firm will, which is not like a bowl of glass:
when I wake up and when I close my eyes to sleep,
I remain yours, as when I rise or lie down;
and don't think it'll abate my longing:
it won't: I feel it now in my head. 

Arnaut has waited, and will wait,
since by waiting, a wise men achieves a noble victory. 

I only know the grief that comes to me,
to my love-ridden heart, out of over-loving,
since my will is so firm and whole
that it never parted or grew distant from her
whom I craved at first sight, and afterwards:
and now, in her absence, I tell her burning words;
then, when I see her, I don't know, so much I have to, what to say. 

To the sight of other women I am blind, deaf to hearing them
since her only I see, and hear and heed,
and in that I am surely not a false slanderer,
since heart desires her more than mouth may say;
wherever I may roam through fields and valleys, plains and mountains
I shan't find in a single person all those qualities
which God wanted to select and place in her. 

I have been in many a good court,
but here by her I find much more to praise:
measure and wit and other good virtues,
beauty and youth, worthy deeds and fair disport;
so well kindness taught and instructed her
that it has rooted every ill manner out of her:
I don't think she lacks anything good. 

No joy would be brief or short
coming from her whom I endear to guess [my intentions],
otherwise she won't know them from me,
if my heart cannot reveal itself without words,
since even the Rhone, when rain swells it,
has no such rush that my heart doesn't stir
a stronger one, weary of love, when I behold her. 

Joy and merriment from another woman seems false and ill to me,
since no worthy one can compare with her,
and her company is above the others'.
Ah me, if I don't have her, alas, so badly she has taken me!
But this grief is amusement, laughter and joy,
since in thinking of her, of her am I gluttonous and greedy:
ah me, God, could I ever enjoy her otherwise! 

And never, I swear, I have liked game or ball so much,
or anything has given my heart so much joy
as did the one thing that no false slanderer
made public, which is a treasure for me only.
Do I tell too much? Not I, unless she is displeased:
beautiful one, by God, speech and voice
I'd lose ere I say something to annoy you. 

And I pray my song does not displease you
since, if you like the music and lyrics,
little cares Arnaut whether the unpleasant ones like them as well. 

Giraut de Bornelh 

Reis glorios / Glorious king
trans. Craig E. Bertolet

Glorious king, true light and clarity,
Almighty God, Lord, if it please You,
Be a faithful aid to my companion,
Because I have not seen him since the night came,
And soon it will be dawn.

Fair companion, are you sleeping or awake?
Don't sleep any longer, but softly rouse yourself,
For in the east I see the star arisen
Which brings on the day, I know it well,
And soon it will be dawn.

Fair companion, I call you with singing:
Don't sleep any longer, because I hear the bird sing
Which goes to seek the day through the woods,
And I fear that the jealous one may attack you,
And soon it will be dawn.

Fair companion, go to the window
And look at the stars in the sky;
You will understand whether I am your faithful messenger:
If you don't do this, it will be to your harm,
And soon it will be dawn.

Fair companion, since I parted from you
I have neither slept nor risen from my knees,
Instead, I have prayed God, the Son of Saint Mary,
That He might give you back to me in loyal companionship,
And soon it will be dawn.

Fair companion, you begged me not to go to sleep
Out there on the steps,
But instead to keep watch all night until dawn;
Neither my song nor my company please you now,
And soon it will be dawn.

Fair sweet companion, I am in so rich a place
That I wish it would never be dawn nor day,
Because the noblest lady ever born of mother
I hold and embrace; therefore, I don't care at all about
The jealous fool nor the dawn.


So through the eyes love attains the heart:
For the eyes are the scouts of the heart,
And the eyes go reconnoitering
For what it would please the heart to possess.
And when they are in full accord
And firm, all three, in one resolve,
At that time, perfect love is born
From what the eyes have made welcome to the heart.
Not otherwise can love either be born or have commencement
Than by this birth and commencement moved by inclination.

By the grace and by command
Of these three, and from their pleasure,
Love is born, who its fair hope
Goes comforting her friends.
For as all true lovers
Know, love is perfect kindness,
Which is born - there is no doubt - from the heart and eyes.
The eyes make it blossom; the heart matures it:
Love, which is the fruit of their very seed.

- Guiraut de Borneilh (c. 1138-1200?) 

Guilhem IX of Poitou

Joyous in love, I make my aim
trans. J. Lindsay

Joyous in love, I make my aim
forever deeper in Joy to be.
The perfect Joy's the goal for me:
so the most perfect lady I claim.
I've caught her eyes. All must exclaim:
the loveliest heard or seen is she.

You know I'd never base my fame
on brags. If ever we're to see
a flowering Joy, this Joy, burst free,
should bear such fruit no man can name,
lifting among the others a flame
that brightens in obscurity.

Bernart de Ventadorn

When I see the lark beating
trans. Craig E. Bertolet

When I see the lark beating
Its wings in joy against the rays of the sun
That it forgets itself and lets itself fall
Because of the sweetness that comes to its heart,
Alas! Such great envy then overwhelms me
Of all those whom I see rejoicing,
I wonder that my heart, at that moment,
Does not melt from desire.

Alas! How much I thought I knew
About love, and how little I know,
Because I cannot keep myself from loving
The one from whom I will gain nothing.
She has all my heart, and my soul,
And herself and the whole world;
And when she left, nothing remained
But desire and a longing heart.

I have never had power over myself
Nor been by own man from the very hour
When she let me see into her eyes,
Into a mirror that pleases me so much.
Mirror, since I saw myself in you,
I have been slain by deep sighs,
That I have lost myself just as the handsome
Narcissus did in the fountain.

I despair of ladies;
I will never trust them again;
As I used to defend them
Now I shall abandon them,
Because I see no one who does any good for me
Against her who destroys and confounds me,
I fear and distrust them all,
Because I know very well that they are all alike.

She really shows herself to be a woman in this,
My lady, for which I condemn her;
Because she does not want what she should want,
And what she shouldn't do, she does.
I have fallen on an evil grace,
And I have indeed acted like the fool on the bridge
And I do not know how this happened to me,
Unless I tried to climb too high on the mountain.

Mercy is indeed lost,
And I never knew it,
Because she, who ought to have most of it,
Has none, and where will I look for it?
Ah! It would never seem, when looking at her,
That she would let this love-sick wretch,
Who will never be well without her,
To die, without helping him.

Since these things will never bring me good from my lady,
Neither prayers, pity, nor the rights I have,
Nor is it a pleasure to her
That I love her, I will never tell her again.
Thus I part from her and give her up.
She has slain me, and through death I will respond,
And I go away, since she does not ask me to stay,
Wretched, into exile, I know not where.

Tristan, you will have nothing more from me,
For I go away, wretched, I know not where.
I will withdraw from singing and renounce it,
And I hide myself from joy and love.