Western Medieval European Poetry and Literature CNE/ENG 120 11/3/04
Medieval Period • “1,000 year epoch in which nearly every element of modern European culture can be found already in existence, but in strange forms and used for alien purposes.”
Vernacular Medieval Literature • Spans various genres: epics, romances, courtly and other poetry. • In particular, Medieval lyric poetry, with its themes of love and loss, its reliance on simple effects of rhythm and rhyme, and its basis in sung performance - make it not that far from modern popular music in spirit and form.
Continuities • For example, Maria Rosa Menocal’s book, Shards of Love (1994) traces the path of inspiration linking the lyrics of Medieval Spain to Eric Clapton’s album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. • The Troubadour lyrics are the original version, in some ways, of what we think of as the modern love song (high drama with lovely sound and imagery).
Layla by Eric Clapton and Jim Gordon • What'll you do when you get lonely And nobody's waiting by your side? You've been running and hiding much too long. You know it's just your foolish pride. Layla, you've got me on my knees. Layla, I'm begging, darling please. Layla, darling won't you ease my worried mind. I tried to give you consolation When your old man had let you down. Like a fool, I fell in love with you, Turned my whole world upside down. Chorus Let's make the best of the situation Before I finally go insane. Please don't say we'll never find a way And tell me all my love's in vain. Chorus Chorus
Troubadours & Trobairitz(know these terms for the exam) • Their performance culture is similar to those of other popular music traditions, such as folk music, the blues, and hip-hop. They all tend to be composed at their peak popularity by a tightly knit group of writers, producers, and performers. Lyrics and music are intertextual, borrowing, stealing, and adapting from previous singers and competitors. The hip-hop vogue for sampling earlier songs, alluding to music, the music industry, and various performers is much like the characteristic culture of the troubadours.
Courtly Love • Sang of courtly love, centered in southwest France. • Troubadours/Trobairitz composed the songs, jongleurs (traveling players) would perform them at various courts, after giving largely fictitious vitae of their composers. • Themes: the art of composition, sex, money
Formal Characteristics • Rhyme was new in the 12th c., so poets explored it with a passion. • About 250 melodies have survived, representing about 10% of what existed at the time. • There were 2 main melodic styles: Syllabic (each syllable gets a single note) Melismatic (many notes are used for 1 syllable)
Key Poetic Terms The verb trobar “to find” - focuses on the skills of invention and improvisation. If you were skilled at composition, it followed that you would be skilled at love. The verses had to possess the same aesthetic qualities as the woman/man one loved. A good poem required payment in good love; Bernart threatens to stop composing and leave town because his lady hasn’t followed this rule (‘When I see the skylark moving’).
Guillem de Peiteus • 1071-1127 CE • Duke of Aquitaine • ‘I’ll write a verse about nothing’ • ‘In the sweet time of renewal’ what themes/imagery can we see here?
Bernart de Ventadorn • 1150-1180 CE • Perhaps belonged to the court of Eleanor of Aquitaine. • ‘When I see the skylark moving’ • Listen to the song. What images and themes can we see here?
Beatriz, Comtessa de Dia • Flourished circa 1160 CE • We don’t know much of anything about her. • ‘To sing of what I would not want I must’ • ‘I have been in great distress’ • What themes do we see in these? What kind of love features in the second poem?
Bertran de Born • C. 1140 - c. 1215 CE • Appears in Dante’s Inferno as a ‘sower of discord.’ • ‘I love the glad time of Easter’ satirizes Richard the Lion-Hearted.
Walther von der Vogelweide • Austrian • c. 1170 - c. 1230 CE • A ‘love-singer’ (minnesinger, or minstrel). Also calls for transcendence of the world through spiritual cleansing. Listen to the song Palastinalied (Palestine Song). • What are some themes and imagery we can see in his songs ‘under the lime tree,’ ‘someone tell me, what is love?’, ‘I sat upon a rock,’ and ‘Alas, where have they disappeared, all my life’s short years?’
Carmina Burana No. 116 • Listen to Sic mea fata. “By singing I ease my fate/as does the swan near death. A warm sorrow clings to my heart, the rosy color has fled from my face. From increasing care, lively pain, & declining vigor, with misery, I die. So harshly does love punish my breast. I die, I die, I die. Because I must love and am not loved.” • The Carmina Burana is a manuscript that recorded the Goliards’ (wandering clerics) dancing & drinking songs (Latin). Poets proclaim bodily needs, attack conventional society.
Marie de France • French • mid 12th - early 13th c. CE • Genre: lais (narratives in verse, tales of courtly love and adventure, based on Celtic folktale). • Character is revealed through action, not inner thoughts/reflection. The morals of her stories are exemplary rather than explicit - we must work them out from the behavior & fate of the characters. • Name/term to know: Bisclavret, lais
Marie de France on Love • Love can bring the lover closer to God ( it ennobles, and its pleasures are the closest one can experience to divine inspiration), but love is also an earthly/physical experience. • She isn’t consistent in her moral presentation - she selectively condones adultery, for example.
Her Opening Lai, ‘Guigemar’ ‘Love is a wound in the body, and yet nothing appears on the outside. It’s a sickness that lasts a long time, because it comes from nature. Many people treat it lightly, like these false courtiers who have affairs everywhere they go, then boast about their conquests; that’s not love but folly, evil and lechery. If you can find a loyal love, you should serve love and serve it faithfully, be at its command.’