The Troubadours famously symbolised the Poetry Courtly Love era.
THE ROLE OF THE TROUBADOURS
The troubadours were the poets of the poetry courtly love era. They first began to appear in the 11th century when chivalry began to appear, and the ideal of courtly love found expression in the words and deeds of medieval man.
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. The troubadours mixed elements of celtic folklore with French poetry and created the great romances of the middle ages.
Just as I recounted earlier, poetry courtly love originated in the courts of Eleanor of Acquitane. Similarly the first recorded troubadour was Duke William of Aquitaine also known as Guilhem de Poitou. His poetry is said to contain all the elements of courtly love, and his formalized ideals were carried north when Eleanor, his granddaughter married King Louis of France, divorced, then married Prince Henry of England.
If you would like to read some of his poems, which employed all the conventions of the genre, as well as some of the better known troubadours, I have a fine selection for you.
Click Here for examples of Troubadour Poetry
As I have already mentioned, Eleanor became queen twice shortly after each marriage, and it was in her courts to the North and to the South, that the ways and poetry of courtly love flourished.
Under her influence, Tristram and Ysolt, Wace's Brut and the romance of Troy were written. Three of Eleanor's sons were patrons of literature and kept the troubadour tradition alive. But her two daughters, especially Marie de France, played the most influential roles in carrying on their mother's social and literary interests.
Again, you may recollect that Marie was to thank for commissioning Cretien de Troyes' Knight of the Cart.
Cretien credited Countess Marie with furnishing the subject matter and the manner of treatment, and he put it on record that he was trying to carry out her intentions.
THE MAIN FEATURES OF TROUBADOUR POETRY:
Troubadour poetry, which naturally demonstrated the tenets of poetry courtly love had these main features as its central theme:-
An attitude of subservience and fidelity to a cold and cruel mistress(This includes the unrequited love theme which is a central one).
An exorbitant and quasi-religious praise of the lady's beauty.
The requirement that love be extramarital.
SOME BRIEF EXCERPTS OF TROUBADOUR POETRY
Here are a few excerpts from the works of some of the troubadours that tell us something about their style, but if you want more detailed works of troubadour poetry...
Click Here For Arnaut Daniel Sample1
Click Here For Arnaut Daniel Sample2
Click Here For Arnaut Daniel Sample3
Click Here For Arnaut Daniel Sample4
Click Here For Bernart de Ventadorn Poetry
Raimbaut d'Aurenga writes,
"I do not sing because of bird or flower or snow or frost, nor even because of cold or heat or because of the field growing green again. . . Of my beloved I make lady and lord, whatever may be my destiny."
Another troubadour, Blondel de Nesle contributed this:-
"Neither her indifference nor her idleness saved me from being wounded deeply by a sweet look the injury from which pierces me, which she gave me. . .
Love disposes of me fittingly at his own whim, and Hope and my lady equally torment me much between them in a sweet way.
I do not know if they intend ever to make me an ill reward. . . . She for whom I have abandoned myself and everything else, may she wish to keep me for her use!
For no sorrow from Love, nor envy of anyone else, could turn my desire from her. If devotion can avail more than treachery, and Love wishes to dispense his good with justice, I may yet be able to come to a great good."
Another troubadour,Gace Brule says
"Well may that love prosper through which one hopse to have the joy of successful love and serving loyally!,
But I expect nothing from mine except death, since I ask for love in such a lofty place. And so I see nothing in it but my own end, if my lady does not take pity on me or if Devotion and Love do not ask it from her. . . .
In Love there is such great nobility, that it has the power to make the poor rich; so I look for its mercy and help. . . . Loyal love (of which I have a great abundance) will kill me."
However there is a salutary warning from Heinrich von Morungen,
"Great is his misery, whoever puts heartfelt love in such a high place that his service is entirely unpleasing."
Excerpt from Le Chastel d'Amours - (Anonymous)
I ask you, castle of Love,
What is your main foundation?
To love loyally.
Now tell me of your great wall,
What makes it so handsome, strong and sure?
To conceal discreetly.
Tell me, what are the battlements,
The windows and the stones?
Friends, name me the guardian.
Evil speaking danger.
What key can unlock it?
To beg politely.
Love of the courtly tradition was seen as a chivalric quest for the beloved. It is natural, then, that the love was often unrequited, as fulfillment was an almost unattainable ideal. The poets presented love in a refined and stylised manner, using every dimension of the beauty of language and the expression of music.
The courtly society delighted in a tradition where women were infinitely beautiful and men unfailingly courteous; The troubadours borrowed the rhythms of the dance to form metrical poetic lines.
Many troubadours were both poets and musicians. Using an early music form called the chanson, other popular musical forms developed like the rondeau, virelai and ballads which became a means of expression for both poet and musician.
One troubadour, whose art best illustrates this marriage of poetry and music is Guillaume de Machaut.
Machaut’s art employed a subtle blend of words and music. It is a formal, highly stylised mode of expression.
As the chanson became more popular, a form of poetry hitherto reserved for the nobility became known to the general public. Poetry was still a normal form of expression, and music its welcome companion.
The result was that Machaut's poetry was not secondary to his music, but complemented it. Using harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic innovations, he produced poetry and music in about equal proportions.
He wrote poetry steeped in the courtly love conventions of the heart being on fire with desire, to the point where it can burn to ash if the unrequited flame continues.
Emotions such as Hardship, Pity, and Disdain are personified, as well as Love.
A good illustration of this is his poem, “Hareu!-Helas! ou sera pris confors”
where the words of the second stanza translate as:-
“Deprived of heart and hope, I cannot love for long.
No man’s heart can survive when once aflame.”
In spite of these anguished words however, our hero does not give up! Does this sound familiar to many a hapless suitor caught up in the throes of unrequited passion?
This view of unrequited, agonising love interwoven with suffering is characteristic of the best of poetry courtly love tradition.
Here are some more useful links:-
Click Here for examples of Poetry Courtly Love
Click Here for more examples of Poetry Courtly Love
Click Here for Poetry Courtly Love rules
Click Here for Poetry Courtly Love conventions
If you like Poetry Courtly Love and would like to receive more information directly in your inbox, subscribe to my Love Poetry of The World newsletter
Return from Poetry Courtly Love to Love Poetry of The World