The Troubadours of Poetry Courtly Love emerged from 12th century Southern France

In Poetry Courtly Love, the name, troubadour derives from the Old Occitan verb trobar = to find ( a composition, i.e., words and music), and is applied to a wide range of Provençal love poets, who were poetry courtly love exponents.

Troubadour Poetry, in spite of the fact that it was not widely read in English, has profoundly impacted on modern Western art in general and love poetry in particular.

A lot of the notions today, of idealized romantic love is traceable back to a certain extent to the troubadour love poets of 12th century southern France.

Troubadours were court poets, singers and composers often in the employ of nobles and rulers.

A fair amount of them were actually from the nobility, and it was not until the later years of the troubadour phenomenon as its fame spread, that more and more troubadours came from the lower classes from all over the countryside of medieval Europe.

As I have already mentioned, the troubadours were not so much itinerant minstrels as high-ranking noblemen who entertained themselves and their courts with compositions of love songs in the period from ca. 1100 to ca. 1300 and later.

Troubadours included monarchs, such as Alfonso II of Aragon and Richard the Lion-Heart (son of Eleanor of Aquitaine, later King of England); powerful lords, such as Guilhelm le Neuf, Guilhelm de Cabestanh, Rigaut de Berbezilh, Pons de Capduelh, Jaufre Rudel, and Savaric de Mauleon;

They also included ecclesiastics, such as Folquet de Marselha, bishop of Toulouse, and the monk Montaudó.

But we also come across members of the middle and lower class among the troubadours, such as the tailor Guilhem Figueira, the merchant Salh d’Escola, the painter Bernart Martí, not to forget such poets as Cercamon, Bernart de Ventadorn, and Marcabru whose background seems to be rather uncertain.

The higher their social rank, the more is known about the troubadours, especially when their poems are accompanied by brief, biographies and short explanations of their texts.

The vast majority of courtly-love poetry consists of songs (cansós) in which the knightly lover woos his courtly lady, reflecting upon his own emotional state, but in a number of cases different settings create the framework for varying generic conditions.

Marcabru, for instance, in his “L’autrier jost’ una sebissa”, created a pastourela (pastoral), a love song in which a knight tries to convince a shepherdess to grant him her love, but she deftly rejects him and makes a fool of him with the help of her superior rhetorical skills. Although he tries to talk her into compliance by flattering her, she refuses to give herself up.

Cercamon introduces his song “Quant l’aura doussa s’amarzis” with the image of the coming winter when the lover suffers badly because of the physical distance from his lady. Rigaut de Berbezilh implies that his song truly has to serve as the interpreter of his love to his lady (“Atressi con l’orifanz”), but he also espouses, following Ovid, the theory of suffering without which no true love can be experienced (“Tuit demandon qu’es devengud’ Amors”).

Peire d’Alvernhe utilizes the nightingale as the ideal messenger of love (“Rossinhol, el seu repaire”), but he also offers the first critical remarks chastising his troubadour colleagues for their shortcomings and failures in their singing (“Cantarai d’aquestz trobadors”). P>The first troubadour of record was Duke William IX of Aquitaine also known as Guilhelm de Peitieu (le Neuf). (1071-1127) His work is said to contain all the elements of poetry courtly love.

Writing in the French vernacular, the earliest of his verses that survives is a rather coarse love poem, “Companho, faray un vers [tot] covinen”, describing his dilemma in choosing between two ladies, Lady Agnes and Lady Arsen.

Although no literary models before Guilhelm’s poetry courtly love has been found, he was apparently fully aware of a rich tradition of poetry courtly love and knew how to utilize its stock themes and devices to the fullest extent. He even satirized the entire genre with a poem on nothing, “Farai un vers de dreyt nien”, in which the poet claims that he has a mistress, yet does not know who she is!

In most of his other songs, however, Guilhelm obeys the conventional demands of the poetry courtly love genre, discussing romantic aspects of love, once singing a song of praise of his beloved’s beauty and lamenting his suffering in her service (“Farai chansoneta nueva”), then rejoicing over the happiness that he received from his lady’s love (“Ab la dolchor del temps novel”).

For your reading enjoyment, I have included this poem from his recorded works, translated into English:-

English version by 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.

Immediately following Guilhelm, many other troubadour poets came forward and offered a rich repertoire of poetry courtly love, varying in genre, style, imagery, and language.

All of them shared the same ideal of love as a pastime for court members who, once having subscribed to love, experienced a profound change in their ideals, manners, activities, language, and interaction with other members of the court.

One of these poetry courtly love poets whose poem, 'Glorious King' we shall read below, is Giraut de Bornelh (1165? - 1210) a Troubadour at the court of Alfonso II of Aragon (Spain).

He was called "Master of the Troubadours" by his contemporaries. Dante considered him to be among the greatest of the poetry courtly love Troubadours, along with Arnaut Daniel

Reis glorios / Glorious king

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.

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