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From The Trobador Poets, Selections from the Poems of Eight Trobadors translated from the Provençal with Introduction and Notes, by Barbara Smythe; Chatto & Windus: London, New York: Duffield & Co., 1911; pp. 1-9.


The Count of Poitou

THE art of the trobadors was not only fostered and encouraged by the nobles of Southern France, it was actually started by one of them. The earliest trobador whose poetry has come down to us was a powerful nobleman, Guilhem IX. Duke of Aquitaine, who was also Guilhem VII. Count of Poitou. Among the trobadors and their contemporaries he was always known simply as “The Count of Poitou.” The familiarity with his art displayed by this poet, and certain allusions in his poems, show that he was not the only trobador of his time, but it may be safely assumed that he had no predecessors in the art, as no allusions to any earlier trobador are anywhere to be found.

Guilhem was born in the year 1071. The main facts of his life have been recorded by the chroniclers. In the year 1100 he went at the head of 300,000 men on a very ill-fated crusading expedition, of which he was almost the sole survivor. He is said by the chronicler Ordericus Vitalis to have made joking verses about his misfortunes in the East after his return, but unfortunately none of these have come down to us. Eighteen years later he started on an expedition against the Moors of Spain, and had a part in the great victory won over them by the King of Aragon 2 in 1120. In 1126 he was making war on the King of France. In 1127 he died.

Several descendants of the first of the trobadors played an important part in the literary history of the time. His granddaughter, the celebrated Eleanor of Aquitaine, the wife first of Louis VII. of France and afterwards of Henry II. of England, was a liberal patroness of the trobadors, and inspired some of the finest songs of the greatest of all Provençal poets, Bernart of Ventadorn. Her sons — Henry, Richard Cœur-de-Lion, and Geoffrey, were also patrons of the trobadors; Richard even followed the example of his great-grandfather, and wrote poems himself.

According to the chroniclers, Guilhem of Aquitaine was a brave and accomplished, but also an irreverent and immoral man. Various anecdotes of him are recorded to illustrate this character, and some of his songs further confirm it. Among the eleven which are extant some can scarcely be looked on as examples of trobador verse; their bold coarseness suggests rather the inspiration of old popular songs than that of the ideals of chivalry. He has, however, left four love-songs of charming simplicity and sincerity. These express a much less conventional and artificial emotion than we usually meet with in the songs of the trobadors; indeed the correct “feudal” form of love was not yet the fashion, and even if it had been it is not likely that the great Duke of Aquitaine would have troubled himself about it. His thoughts were seriously occupied with political matters, and poetry was to him only a diversion, not the chief business of his life. Another of his poems is an “enigma,” or nonsense verse, a form of poetry which became popular among the trobadors, who used it to express the dreamy and confused state of mind to which love reduced them. It cannot be said with certainty to whom any of his songs 3 were addressed, but it is probable that some at least were written to a certain Countess Amalberge, who was for some time his mistress.

The verse-forms employed by the Count of Poitou in his love-songs are simpler than some of those used by the later trobadors, but there is an ease and grace about them which show him to have been a practised poet. Of his talent as a musician we cannot judge, for except for a fragment of the melody to one of his songs which was adapted to different words in the Provençal mystery play of Saint Agnes, none of his music has come down to us.


REJOICING greatly I begin
To love a joy I long to gain,
And since I turn to joy again
I ought to strive the best to win;
And better joy than mine within
The whole world I might seek in vain.

I, you must know, ought not to boast,
Or on my worth myself to plume
— But if a joy may ever bloom,
This should be perfect o’er the host
Of others, and bear fruit the most,
As sunshine brightens winter’s gloom.

No joy could e’er imagined be
In man’s desire, or in his mind,
Or in his thoughts, that I should find
Equal to this that’s come to me.
No man could praise it well, though he
A whole year to the task assigned.

All happiness should bow before
My lady, all her power confess,
Because of her sweet graciousness
And of her beauty’s goodly store.
He’d live a hundred years and more
Who could her love’s great joy possess.

Her charm can cure the sick man’s plight,
Her wrath can make the whole man die,
And make the wise man’s wits to fly;
The fair man’s beauty it can blight,
It makes the rudest boor polite
And makes the courteous rude and shy.

Since none can make a better choice,
Nor mouth describe, nor eyes behold,
I want her for myself to hold,
My heart to gladden with her voice,
And me to strengthen and rejoice,
That I may nevermore grow old.

If my belov’d her love will grant,
I am prepared to thank and take
And to dissemble for her sake,
And say and do whate’er she want;
Of her nobility I’ll chant,
And all my songs for her I’ll make.

To send no message do I dare,
Fearing her anger, nor do I
— So fear I to do wrong — draw nigh
To her, my passion to declare.
Yet she indeed for me should care,
Knowing my cure in her doth lie.



NOW a ballad new I’ll make me
Ere the winter overtake me;
My beloved seeks to break me
Of my love — she doubts it’s true.
But no word from her can shake me,
Never my bondage shall I rue.

To her power myself I’ve given,
May my chains be never riven,
’Tis no sin to be forgiven
That I love my lady true.
I should die if from her driven,
Hungering for her as I do.

Fairer than a flower her face is,
All else from my heart it chases,
And if very soon her grace is
Gained not, I shall die ’tis true,
But shall live if she embraces
Me ’neath the bough and kisses too.

Love, what gain will you be making
If, despairing, I’m forsaking
You — would you the veil be taking?
Know, my love for you ’s so true
That with grief my heart is aching
Till I receive amends from you.

How will you be better faring
If I turn a monk, despairing?
— All the world’s joy we’ll be sharing,
6 Lady, if our love be true.
Now my comrade shall be bearing
My ballad unto her I woo.

Love makes me to freeze and tremble,
For I think it must be true
None whose grace did hers resemble
E’er from Sir Adam’s lineage grew.



A SONG of nothing I will write;
Not of myself or any wight,
And not of youth or love’s delight,
    No, nor of aught.
On horseback fast asleep one night
    Of it I thought.

I’ve no idea when I was born,
I’m neither happy nor forlorn,
Nor friend nor stranger, I’ll be sworn
    —’Tis destiny.
For thus on a high hill my Norn
    Decreed for me.

When I’m asleep I’m unaware,
Or when I’m walking, I declare;
My heart’s near breaking with despair,
    With grief it faints
— And not a farthing do I care,
    By all the Saints.

I’m ill and like to die I fear,
But nothing know save what I hear;
I’ll seek a leech, but far or near
    Find none I want.
If he can care, I’ll hold him dear
    — Not if he can’t.

I’ve a sweetheart — I know not who,
I’ve never seen her it is true,
She’s pleased me ne’er, done nought I rue,
    Nor do I care,
For messenger from her unto
    My house comes ne’er.

I’ve seen her ne’er, my love is mad,
She’s never made me gay or sad,
When I don’t see her I am glad,
    I care no straw,
For one who’s fairer can be had,
    And worth much more.

To ask me where she dwells were vain,
If on a hill or in a plain,
How she wrongs me I can’t explain,
    So none can know;
It grieves me sore here to remain,
    So I shall go.

My song of nothing’s at an end;
To one I send it who shall send
It by another to my friend
    Down in Poitou,
That he to me may give or lend
    The riddle’s clue.



I. “Rejoicing greatly I begin..

Metrical form. — That of the original is reproduced in the translation. The rimes in the original remain unchanged throughout the poem, whereas I have changed them for every stanza.

II. “Now a ballad new I’ll make me.

Metrical form. — That of the original has been exactly preserved. Note the recurrence of the refrain word true (in the original am, I love) at the end of the fourth line of every stanza. The use of such a refrain word was very common among the trobadors.

The short stanza at the end of the poem is called a tornada. The structure of the tornada had to resemble exactly that of the latter part of the preceding stanza — a rule that is not observed by the Count of Poitou in this poem, for he changes his rimes. If a poem had more than one tornada, the second might not be longer, but might be shorter, than the first. The tornada was used by most trobadors as an “Envoi.” It was addressed either to the lady who inspired the poem, or to a friend or patron, or to the messenger who carried the song to the lady, or to the song itself.

III. “A song of nothing I will write.

Metrical form. — That of the original is reproduced in the translation except for the rimes of the short lines, which in the Provençal are the same throughout the poem.

Stanza 2, l. 5. — This and other passages in trobador verse (cf. especially the last stanza of Jaufre Rudel’s song, “Whenas the days are long in May”) allude to a popular belief in a species of 9 fairy godmother who arranged the destiny of mortals at their birth. I have doubts as to the suitability of introducing a Scandinavian Norn into a Provençal poem, but the exigencies of rime required her presence, and the pairis of the Provençals seem to have fulfilled a function similar to that of the lesser Norns of the Scandinavians.

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