Jaufré Rudel: Joy and Love Afar (From Occitan)

Philology is not much in vogue these days. At least, not in the English-speaking world. Yet when it comes to medieval and ancient texts, I seem to be part translator, part long-winded commentator, and part philologically-obsessed editor. I have come to increasingly accept this about myself, much as one must accept the passing of youth, the passing of air or the passing of a kidney stone. I had set out to write a brief two-to-three paragraph introduction to the song here translated. But it seems to have mushroomed into about five printed pages worth of philological, editorial and comparative literary divagation about Islamic literatures, modern Occitan and the history of troubadour studies.
An weird little story is found in Jaufré Rudel's vida, or biography. It tells how he fell in love with the countess of Tripoli simply by hearing about her from pilgrims, which inspired him not only to sing songs about her ("with great melody but poor words" ab bon sons, ab paubre motz) but to go on Crusade across the sea to try and see her. But he took gravely ill at sea so that his dying body had to be brought to an inn in Tripoli. The countess, having heard of this, came to see him in his last moments, and gave him the joy of dying in the arms of his lady love, seeing her for the first time, after which, she became a nun in posthumous fidelity to her one-time beloved.

This unworldly little chain of improbabilities, seemingly drawn mostly from medieval stock commonplaces, fired the romantic blood of nineteenth century Europeans. Given what an extremely combustible substance romantic blood tends to be, this is unsurprising. What may be more of a shock, or rather more of an indictment, is that even medievalists took the tale to be basically factual until Gaston Paris set them straight, also disposing of the general reliability of Occitan troubadour biographies in the process. Yet even then, the search continued for some lucky lady referent, some real unseen woman of historical or literary note, to bear the dubious honor of being Rudel's Amor Lonhdana.

To my mind, the basic value of the vida, which one ought not to ignore, is that it suggests not only that some audiences as early as two centuries after Rudel's death found his lyrics less than appealing aesthetically (with their "good melodies but poor words"), but also just how peculiar they must have found their substance. The interpretative knot which the vida twists itself into by trying to understand Jaufré's songs in literal terms seems to me a masterpiece of creative un-imagination which made the songs all the more memorable to medieval audiences, motivated as it was by the kind of textual intractability which once fostered the akhbār on pre-Islamic poets, and would centuries later stoke the minds of Biblical philologists.

Modern audiences may find the vida to be much more fanciful than the song corpus it attempts to explain. Still, it is not an entirely straightforward matter to determine what the "love afar" (amor de lonh, amor lonhdana, amors de tèrra lonhdana), which Rudel sings about even is (nor, as I would argue, does it even matter quite so much as one might think.) It is still occasionally taken to be a woman, one which the singer has never seen and perhaps never will. Yet Rudel is peculiarly vague about the object of his love, and also contradictory, such that some have considered her to be a woman of dream visions, or a mere set piece abstracted from the "princesse lointaine" trope found sporadically in Old Spanish and Old French literature.

Moreover, transcendent and temporal love seem to heavily inflect one another in Rudel's songs, with a heavy undertone of Crusading (that he did take up the cross for the Holy Land is one of the few things about his life for which there is external evidence.) Thus other incorporeal and even inanimate candidates for the "love afar" have been identified including not merely "love of God" but the Crusades themselves, the Blessed Virgin, the Holy Land, the Christian Paradise and even Helen of Troy (as a literary trope, obviously, not an object of fanciful necrophilia.) The broader generic question of whether Rudel's love was "religious or profane" has also been a cause in whose name many a valiant scholar's ink has been tragically shed. (One would do well to recall how close to the heart of lyric poetry hymnody was in the early Middle Ages, a matter all too often forgotten in the disciplinary crevice between Late Latin and Medieval Romance literature.)

This and the other songs of Rudel have attracted much interest for all manner of reasons. But among the reasons why they interest me, one is somewhat odd. Perhaps it is odd (and more so today than it would have been 50 years ago) only because of how frequently, and increasingly, the study of literature is determined by the intellectual genealogies and taxonomies reflected in the divisions of university departments, and therefore students of Islamicate literatures seldom busy themselves much with the study of Occitan these days. For we have here a particularly crystalline example of the parallels with Islamicate court lyric that have long been sensed with regard to much troubadour song. Many of the issues at play with this song (confusion as to verse ordering, structural opacity, lack of clarity as to what the song is "really" supposed to be about and a good deal else both thematic and editorial) will ring a bell for anyone familiar with scholarship on classical Persian (and Persianate) court lyric, as well as the debates of orientalists regarding same in the previous century. Indeed, veterans of the badly-framed "religious or profane love" question that so troubled scholarship are downright legion among students and afficionados of Persian and Urdu poetry, including yours truly. To clone a phrase, you might say Rudel's stanzas are as beautiful as occident pearls at random sung.

The relationship of Andalusi, Sicilian and even Persian lyric to troubadour song (and also to Italian lyric) has long been a point of discussion. The scholarly debate on the matter is fascinating, albeit sometimes "fascinating" in a rather clinical sort of way. Generally it has gone in a crude vein of "who influenced whom and how" (or, mīn akhad min mīn as I once heard an Arab nationalist friend put it), sometimes with naked national or disciplinarian prejudices involved. Sometimes it has taken the form of more nuanced speculations about the influence of the courtly melting pot of Frederick II. Apart from the obviously porous boundaries between Romance and Arabic oral culture in medieval Iberia, I'm inclined to grant the high plausibility of the latter speculations, as well as the general fact that troubadours and joglars traveled widely, from France to Spain to Germany to Hungary to Malta to Palestine, and must have had a considerable impact on their own. Explanations of this kind are in order in cases where the similarities go to the point of poets using the same peculiar metaphors for the same referents, as is the case especially with Italian and Arabic poetry, or of documentable points of contact however vague (e.g. Petrarch's mysterious comments about Arab poets.) But something more general seems to me to be at work, beyond specific sites of "cross-pollination" and not least because it would be rather more difficult, though not impossible, to rope Persian lyric into this filiation than the Andalusi or the Sicilian.

Julie Scott Meisami writes this germane pair of sentences in her Structure and Meaning in Medieval Arabic and Persian Poetry:
Since the medieval literatures of Europe and the Middle East present similar problems in many respects (not least because they are medieval), the study of one may shed light on another, while reference to more familiar traditions may make the “exotic” ones more accessible to those unfamiliar with them. The medieval world was not fragmented by twentieth-century geopolitical or linguistic boundaries; despite differences of language, faith, and culture, it was far more homogeneous than traditional scholarship would have us believe. 
Equally relevant, but in a different way is what Meisami says later on the same page:
In the West, the “experience” of the speaker (typically identified with the poet) is considered primary; that this is not obviously so in Arabic or Persian has led to the belief that Islamic literatures place no value on the individual or on individual experience.
I would argue that it is precisely the preoccupation with the speaker's experience that has led so much scholarship on Rudel's songs until recently to go off the rails. Particularly since he is a "western" poet, he must be made to fit the western ideas (but especially Romantic and post-Romantic ideas) of what it is that poets express, and the relationship of that expression to their reality. L. Topsfield certainly seems to me on the right track in pointing out that Rudel's songs and those of his contemporaries comes from a period characterized by "a seeking and experimental type of poetry...not normally tied down by courtly ideas of behavior, [which] is often more abstract than worldly in intention and is concerned more with the personal quest for joy and the absolute ideal of an ultimate happiness than with conformity to social convention." For Jaufré Rudel's preoccupation with an amor de lonh is much easier to understand as a function of his particular approach to the religious and ethical dimensions of his craft, in response to the more proximate (and less chaste) love that others in his day sang of (or, as in Marcabru's case, viciously sang against.) Rupert T Pickens puts it well:
The quest for an historical amor de lonh is futile and, in my opinion, wrongheaded. The identity of a woman as the object of the troubadour's passion can add nothing to our understanding of his poetry; on the contrary, the poetic content of his work is diminished when attention is deflected away from the songs themselves...[L]ove is a creation of the poet's imagination and...the poems are jeux d'esprit.
Now, then, about the Occitan text.

A confession of editorial license: the arrangement of the stanzas, though not without textual warrant, is simply the one I liked best. The "original" (if it even makes sense to think in these terms) ordering of stanzas is probably impossible to authenticate, from the available manuscripts of this song. This is in the first place because not all of the best manuscripts even have all of the stanzas, and secondly (and relatedly) because the variation in attested stanza ordering for this song is so great that it is unlikely that stanzaic order remained stable anymore than the number of stanzas themselves. After his death, stanzas of Rudel's song were probably rearranged, or excised by singers according to taste and the exigencies of performance, in addition to the fallibility of memory, and there seems to be a small amount of evidence, albeit indirect, that troubadours expected their work to be modified in transmission, at least some of the time. (I am reminded of the variant orderings found in the lyrics of Hāfiz.) Unlike some other Occitan lyrics, there is little sign of either ring composition or linear development here, so much as variations on a theme developed in various directions. The ordering of stanzas might easily be changed about depending on how one interpreted the amor de lonh.

My "edition" of the original text is a somewhat eccentric thing. Since my last translation from Old Occitan, for reasons made more explicit in this post, I have made some serious effort to familiarize myself more with Modern Occitan. I have taken a cue from Bianchi's and Romieu's La Lenga Del Trobar: Precis de Grammatica d'Occitan Ancian as to the value which Old Occitan texts may have for the speaker, or learner, of the modern language, and have regularized the text's orthography with the modern nòrma classica as a guide, not because I think modern Occitan readers are so dim that <can> will be unintelligible to them unless regularized to quand or quant, but because unless one is directly reproducing a manuscript version, which I'm not, I see little point in maintaining an old and hugely variable orthography. Moreover, partial modernization and systematization of orthography in texts for non-specialist modern readers is a fairly routine practice for other medieval languages (e.g. Middle French, Middle English, Old Spanish) with modern descendants, and I see no reason not to do this with Old Occitan. Thus for example, intervocalic [s] and [z] are distinguished by -ss- and -s- respectively, open o and e in stressed syllables are marked by a grave accent, and close o and e by an acute accent in non-final position. Where original pronunciation is clearly at issue, I leave irregularities as they are. For example, <chans> in the original is regularized as chants, and not cants. Forms with palatalized j/ch- and with unpalatalized g/c- before -a seem to have alternated freely in the version of Old Occitan in which many of the troubadours composed, presumably sometimes to suit taste or effect as in the alliteration of jamais and jausirai here. (One might compare American poets' willingness during the twentieth century to rhyme "again" with both "men" and "pain", and "been" with both "seen" and "fin", and the frequent preservation of a dual pronunciation in recitations.)

As for my recording of the text in Old Occitan, further considerations apply. According to the ablest analyses of available evidence, many alternating features of the literary language (or, to borrow an Arabist's term which may be more appropriate, the "poetic koiné") reflected in later copies of the troubadour songs, if viewed in light of Modern Occitan dialect geography, correspond to a series of modern isoglosses which all converge more or less within ancient Languedoc province. I thought therefore of using features that are known, or thought, to be specific to medieval Lengadocian. There are limits to how certain an inference can be drawn from the data however. Although many of the dialectal divisions of Modern Occitan are indubitably very old (Latin etymological evidence shows that at least some predate the recorded use of Occitan as a literary language) the dialect geography of the 11th and 12th centuries can not necessarily be inferred from that of the 19th and early 20th. Moreover, as the Old Occitan of song was not a standardized literary language but rather a supraregional oral norm that appears to have been peculiar to lyric verse (much as the supraregional English of modern rock and rap has a detectably Southern American or Black American coloring, even when it comes out of the mouth of the welshman Tom Jones) which nonetheless admitted a large amount of phonological flexibility, regionalism is probably not the best way to look at it.

In my recording of the Old Occitan, I have opted for something close to what can be deduced of the 12th century lyric language, and which wound up similar in many respects to the pronunciation found in any manual of Old Occitan. The peculiarities that stand out for many (particularly modern Occitan speakers) will be at least three: first the close <ó> in heavily stressed syllables pronounced [o], with the [u] pronunciation limited to unstressed syllables and rarely-stressed monosyllables, and second, the pronunciation of <ç> and <c> before <e, i> as [ts] rather than [s]. (Both were to change in the subsequent century, judging by the Tolosan literary pronunciation reflected in the prescriptions of Guilhèm Molinièr's Leys d'Amors.) The third peculiarity, included on deductive and orthographic grounds, is my velarization of the /l/ as [ł] in coda position. This to me seemed justified by scribal evidence, as well as the data from modern Occitan dialects, a few of which have, and many more of which bear evidence of once having had, a velarized [ł] (whether in coda position as in standard UK English, or in general as in American English or standard Catalan.) 

You will notice that I have used the word "song" rather than "poem" above to refer to Jaufré Rudel's work. This is intentional. For this was in fact a song, with all that implies, and indeed the music for it still survives. I had considered singing the song on the recording. But it quickly became apparent that I did not have the training necessary to sing the somewhat complicated melody correctly, and tolerably, over seven stanzas. But the internet boasts a wealth of people doing their own renditions of this song. Here's one that sticks fairly closely to the recorded melody (the singer, judging by her pronunciation, is a native Catalan speaker). And here's another sung by the musicologist Elizabeth Aubrey, ripped from the CD accompanying William D. Paden's Introduction to Old Occitan, a wonderful book which I used to learn Old Occitan all those years ago. (Aubrey's performance will naturally be de-linked from this page upon request of copyright holders.)

Joy and Love Afar
By Jaufré Rudel
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Old Occitan

Now that the days grow long in May
I hear birds' gentling song afar
When from that song I turn away
My mind turns to my love afar
Bent with desire — downcast and dour
No springbird's song nor whitethorn flower
Can touch me more than winter's chill

Never will I find joy on earth
In love without my love afar
Who shines above all other worth
Above all others near and far
Her virtue reigns so true and pure
I'd die a prisoner of war
In Saracen lands to serve her will

Half grieved half joyful will I go
Once having seen my love afar
When shall we meet? I do not know
For our two lands lie far too far
So many paths by land and sea
What lies ahead I cannot see
But all things follow God's good will

What bliss for love of God will be
There in the lodge of love afar
I'll lodge with her if she wants me
Although a stranger from afar
O discourse will be dear the day
I come her love from faraway
To hear love's words and feel its thrill

I call him Lord who I believe
Shall let me see my love afar
Though for each pleasure I receive
Two ills since she remains so far.
I'd go a pilgrim to that shrine
To see my dust-dark tunic shine
Reflected in those bright eyes still

God who made all things swift and still
And fashioned me my love afar
Grant me a way — I have the will
Soon to behold my love afar
In such a truly pleasant place
That chamber wall and garden space
Will seem a palace on a hill

He speaks the truth who says I yearn
And lust for naught but love afar
What joy on earth would I not spurn
Just to enjoy my love afar?
But what I want is barred with hate
My godfather1 has fixed my fate
To love well and be treated ill

Oh what I want I'll never find
God damn that godfather of mine
Who doomed my love to bring me ill

1- An allusion to the belief that children's lives are influenced by the fate of their godparents.

The Original:

Amor de Lonh
Jaufré Rudèl

Lanquand li jorn son lonc en mai
M'es bèls dòutz chants d'ausèls de lonh
E quand me soi partitz de lai
Remémbra·m d'un amor de lonh
Vau de talan embroncs e clis
Si que chants ni flors d'albespis
No·m platz plus que l'ivèrns gelatz

Jamais d'amor no·m jausirai
Si no·m jau d'est' amor de lonh
que melhor ni gensor no·n sai
vas nulha part ni près ni lonh
Tant es sos prètz verais e fis
Que lai e·l reng dels Sarrasis
fos ièu per lièis chaitius clamatz

Iratz e jausents m'en partrai
quand veirai cest' amor de lonh
mas non sai córas la veirai
car tant son nòstras tèrras lonh
Assatz i a pòrtz e camis
e per açò no·n soi devis
Mas tot sia com a Dièu platz

Be'm parra jòis quand li querrai
Per amor Dièu l'albèrc de lonh
E s'a lièis platz albergarai
Près de lièis si be·m soi de lonh
Adoncs parra·l parlaments fis
Quand drutz lónhdas er tant vesis
Qu'ab bèls digs jausirai solatz

Be tenc lo Senhor per verai
Per qu'ièu veirai l'amor de lonh
Mas per un be que m'en eschai
N'ai dos mals, car tant m'es de lonh
Ay! Car no fui lai pelegris
Si que mos fustz e mos tapis
Fos pels sièus bèls uèlhs remiratz

Dièus qui fetz tot quant ve ni vai
E formèt cest' amor de lonh
Mi don poder que còr ièu n'ai
Qu'en brèu veia l'amor de lonh
Veraiament en lòcs aisis
Si que la cambra e·l jardis
Mi ressemblès tostemps palatz

Ver ditz qui m'apèla lechai
e desirón d'amor de lonh
que nulhs autres jòis tant no·m plai
Com jausiments d'amor de lonh
Mas çò qu'ièu vuòlh m'es tant aïs
Qu'enaiçi·m fadèt mos pairis
Qu'ièu amès e non fos amatz

Mas çò qu'ièu vuòlh m'es tant aïs
Totz sia mauditz lo pairis
que·m fadèt qu'ièu non fos amatz


The Vida of Jaufre Rudel

Jaufre Rudel of Blaya was a very noble man, and lord of Blaya. He fell in love with the countess of Tripoli, sight unseen, because of all the good things that he heard pilgrims tell of her on their way back from Antioch. He made many songs about her with good melodies but poor lyrics.
Out of desire to see her, he took up the cross and went to sea, but was taken ill while on board and was brought, near to death, to an inn in Tripoli. This was made known to the countess, and she came to his bed to see him, and took him into her arms. And he, having realized that she was the countess, at once recovered the faculties of hearing and smell, and praised God who had sustained his life until he could see her; and so he died in her arms.
And she had him buried with high honors in the house of the Templars, and became a nun that same day out of grief over his death.

La Vida de Jaufré Rudèl

Jaufrés Rudèls de Blaia si fo mòut gentils om e fo prínces de Blaia. Et enamorèt de la comtéssa de Trípoli ses veser, per lo bon qu'el n'ausi dire als pelerins que vénguen d'Antiòcha. E fetz de lèis mains vèrs ab bons sons, ab paubre motz.
E per voluntat de lèis veser, el se crosèt e se mes en mar; e pres lo malautía en la nau e fo conduch a Trípoli en un albèrc per mòrt. E fo fait saber a la comtéssa et ela venc ad el, al son lièit, e pres lo antre sos bratz. E saup qu'ela èra la comtéssa e mantenent recobrèt l'ausir e·l flairar, e lausèt Dièu que l'avia la vida sostenguda tro qu'el l'aguès vista; et enaiçí el morí entre sos bratz.
Et ela lo fetz a grand honor sepelir en la maión del Temple; e pòis en aquel dia ela se rendèt morga per la dolor qu'ela n'ac de la mòrt de lui.

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