Bernart de Ventadorn: "When I behold the skylark" (from Provençal)

It has been pointed out to me that in translating medieval poetry, I have been focusing overmuch on the Far East and the Middle East (or rather the Sinosphere and the Islamicate world), to the unwarranted exclusion of medieval Europe, i.e. the very place and time that gave us the term "medieval" in the first place. (In fact it could be argued that the term "medieval" should never be used in reference to anything happening outside Europe, though I will continue to do so for convenience' sake, and because Europe didn't exist in an environmental vacuum.) In any case, this translation of one of my favorite medieval Provençal lyrics is part of an attempt to rectify this unintentional imbalance.

The Skylark
By Bernart de Ventadorn
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

When I behold the skylark lift
His wings adance against the dawn,
And fall forgetfully adrift
For all the joy his heart has won,
Oh envy eats at me to see
How he rejoices in the ray.
I marvel that the heart in me
Does anything but melt away.

What is this thing I thought I knew?
This love that I know nothing of:
The foolishness of being true
To one who will not hear of love,
Who took my heart away and me,
And took herself and took the rest,
And left me full of memory,
And left a mania in my breast.

My mind beyond all mastery,
I wasn’t mine a single night
Since in her eyes she let me see
A mirror spellbinding my sight.
O mirror I saw me in you,
And read what only grief can tell,
Perdition in a single view,
Narcissus ruined at the well.

I have no faith, from this day hence,
In women as I did before.
Though I once stood in their defense,
I cannot stand them anymore.
For none can lift me from my fall
When she has cast me out to shame.
Now I distrust them one and all,
And know too well they're all the same.

And so milady’s proven true
To womanhood, and is to blame,
Despising what she ought to do
And taking pride in every shame.
I’ve fallen out of favor now,
“Fool on a bridge” the people sigh.
I couldn’t guess at why or how:
Except I tried to climb too high.

Mercy and favor are long done,
And kindness I have yet to see.
If she who should possesses none
Herself, then where can mercy be?
So sweet a woman, who’d have guessed
She’d let this dismal lover lie
Bereft of everything that’s best
And leave him helpless here to die?

Her scorn is heaped upon on my worth
And my appeals to sympathy,
She treats my love with vacant mirth
And so she’ll have no more from me.
I’ll pack my love away and go;
Now dead, with death I answer her.
I’m going, since she wills it so,
In exile- nobody knows where.

Lady, you’ll have no more from me.
I’m going nobody knows where.
I’m taking leave of poetry
To quest for loveless, joyless air.



The Original:

"Can vei la lauzeta"

Can vei la lauzeta mover
de joi sas alas contra.l rai,
que s'oblid' e.s laissa chazer
per la doussor c'al cor li vai,
ai! tan grans enveya m'en ve
de cui qu'eu veya jauzion,
meravilhas ai, car desse
lo cor de desirer no.m fon.

Ai las! tan cuidava saber
d'amor, e tan petit en sai,
car eu d'amar no.m posc tener
celeis don ja pro non aurai.
Tout m'a mo cor, e tout m'a me,
e se mezeis e tot lo mon;
e can se.m tolc, no.m laisset re
mas dezirer e cor volon.

Anc non agui de me poder
ni no fui meus de l'or' en sai
que.m laisset en sos olhs vezer
en un miralh que mout me plai.
Miralhs, pus me mirei en te,
m'an mort li sospir de preon,
c'aissi.m perdei com perdet se
lo bels Narcisus en la fon.

De las domnas me desesper
ja mais en lor no.m fiarai;
c'aissi com las solh chaptener,
enaissi las deschaptenrai.
Pois vei c'una pro no m'en te
vas leis que.m destrui e.m cofon
totas las dopt'e las mescre,
car be sai c'atretals se son.

D'aisso's fa be femna parer
ma domna, per qu'e.lh o retrai,
car no vol so c'om deu voler,
e so c'om li deveda, fai.
Chazutz sui en mala merce,
et ai be fai co.l fols en pon;
e no sai per que m'esdeve,
mas car trop puyei contra mon.

Pus ab midons no.m pot valer
precs ni merces ni.l dreiz qu'eu ai,
ni a leis no ven a plazer
qu'eu l'am, ja mais no.lh o dirai,
Aissi.m part de leis e.m recre;
mort m'a, e per mort li respon,
e vau m'en, pus ilh no.m rete,
chaitius, en issilh, no sai on.

Tristans, ges no.n auretz de me,
Qu'em m'en vau, chaitius, no sai on.
De chantar me gie e.m recre,
E de joi e d'amor m'escon.

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