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The Troubadours 2: a poem in 5 languages

Here is a poem, or rather a song, which is written in five languages, with one verse each: Provençal, Italian, French, Gascon and Galician. The sixth verse is written in all these languages, in the same order, with two lines each.

It is by the troubadour Raimbaut de Vaquieras and was written between 1180–1207, the period in which he ‘floruit’, or flowered i.e. composed.

The song is known by its first line, Eras Quan Vey Verdeyar. In Spanish this could be glossed as ‘Ahora, cuando veo reverdecer’, and in English as ‘Now that I see becoming verdant’. It is the most famous example of a sub-genre of Troubadour lyric known as the ‘discord’. The fact that every verse in the discord was apparently intended to be understood (more than inspire awe at the author’s polyglot virtuosity) reminds us that the various Romance dialects (for such they were, more than languages in the modern sense) were mutually comprehensible. This is what enabled the massive dispersion of the Troubadours’ songs, despite the fact that they were written in the regiolect of a relatively small Kingdom.

Here it is, followed by the English translation:

Eras quan vey verdeyar
Pratz e vergiers e boscatges,
Vuelh un descort comensar
D’amor, per qu’ieu vauc aratges;
Q’una dona.m sol amar,
Mas camjatz l’es sos coratges,
Per qu’ieu fauc dezacordar
Los motz sos lenguatges.


Io son quel que ben non aio
Ni jamai non l’averò,
Ni per april ni per maio,
Si per ma donna non l’o;
Certo que en so lengaio
Sa gran beutà dir non sò,
çhu fresca qe flor de glaio,
Per qe no m’en partirò.


Belle douce dame chiere,
A vos mi doin e m’otroi;
Je n’avrai mes joi’ entiere
Si je n’ai vos e vos moi.
Mot estes male guerriere
Si je muer per bone foi;
Mes ja per nulle maniere
No.m partrai de vostre loi.


Dauna, io mi rent a bos,
Coar sotz la mes bon’ e bera
Q’anc fos, e gaillard’ e pros,
Ab que no.m hossetz tan hera.
Mout abetz beras haisos
E color hresc’ e noera.
Boste son, e agos
No.m destrengora hiera.


Mas tan temo vostro preito,
Todo.n son escarmentado.
Por vos ei pen’ e maltreito
E meo corpo lazerado:
La noit, can jatz en meu leito,
So mochas vetz resperado;
E car nonca m’aprofeito
Falid’ ei en mon cuidado.


Belhs Cavaliers, tant es car
Lo vostr’ onratz senhoratges
Que cada jorno m’esglaio.
Oi me lasso que farò
Si sele que j’ai plus chiere
Me tue, ne sai por quoi?
Ma dauna, he que dey bos
Ni peu cap santa Quitera,
Mon corasso m’avetz treito
E mot gen favlan furtado.

Now that I see becoming verdant again
lawns and bowers and woods,
I want to begin a contrast
about love, on whose account I am distraught;
for a lady used to love me,
but her mind has changed
and therefore I sow enmity
among the words, the sounds and the languages.

I am the one who have no good
nor ever shall I have it,
either in April or in May,
unless I have it through my lady.
True, in her own language
I cannot describe her great beauty,
fresher than gladiolus’ flower,
the reason of my persistence.

Fair, sweet dear lady,
to you I give and give up myself;
I shan’t have my whole joy
unless I have you and you me.
You are a most treacherous enemy,
if I die through my good faith;
but still, there is no way
I shall part from your dominion.

Lady, I surrender to you
as you’re the best and truest
that ever was, and sprightly and valiant,
if only you weren’t so cruel to me.
Most fair are your features
and fresh and lively your hue.
I am yours, and if I had you,
nothing would be lacking to me

But so much I fear your anger
that I am in complete despair;
for you I have toil and torture
and my body is racked:
at night, when I lay in bed,
I am awoken many a time;
and since I gain no good for myself,
I have failed in my intent.

Fair Knight, so precious is
your honoured thrall
that every day I despair.
Alas, what shall I do
if she whom I call my dearest
kills me, I know not why?
My lady, by my faith in you
and by the head of Saint Quiteria,
you have taken away my heart,
and stolen it by most sweet talk.

There is a long and recondite history of European ‘macaronic’ poetry. Watch this space for more!

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