Gaucelm Faidit: Lament for King Richard Lionheart (From Occitan)

This lament for King Ricartz Còr de Leó, known in English as Richard Lionheart, was composed in 1199 when Ricartz died of an infected wound during an incident involving a crossbow, a pissed-off teenager, and a field medic who operated like a surgeon cutting for the very first time.

Though born in England, famous in popular memory as King Richard I of England and played on screen by Sean Connery, there is little evidence that King Ricartz spoke English. He might just have learned some from his wetnurse Hodierna, but apart from that it is unlikely he heard it very often growing up. He might have taken steps to learn it for diplomatic and political reasons. Such things were not uncommon in medieval and early modern Europe.

Two songs by Richard himself have survived. One is a sirventés in Occitan. The other, a plea for aid while being held for tremendous ransom, exists in both Occitan and French versions. Unusually, neither version appears to be clearly derived from the other, and it is very possible that Richard composed both. And it is in Occitan that Gaucelm Faidit dirges Ricartz in the poem I translate here.

We have 18 different attestations of this song. Four have the melody preserved. Yet another six instances of the melody are found contrafacted to different lyrics. Unusually for a melody with such robust attestation, the different written versions of the tune resemble one another fairly closely in most respects. The conclusion to be drawn from this is that the poem and its melody went down extremely well with audiences, and stuck in the mind.

The text I give here (in a regularized orthography of my own devising) is based on that of Barachini's edition.

The MMAF database lists 22 modern published recordings of this song, and I have found at least one that is not listed there. I happen to have five of them.

This one here is my favorite to listen to. It is by the group Alla Francesca, and from an album consisting of music connected with the reign of Richard I. It takes its melody from the X manuscript, as most performances do. My instinct was that it is not a very historically accurate one, because there are all sorts of reasons to believe secular song was normally performed by no more than one singer. But this rendition borrows from things we know they did do in church singing. Quoth Tricia Postle of Pneuma Ensemble: "I don't think it's what they did [for troubadour laments], but it's not impossible. It's within the tonal palette that the troubadours would recognize."

This one here by the Early Music Consort of London. This rendering is performance-wise perhaps more "authentic" (though I hate that word.) The pronunciation appears to confuse Old Occitan with French in many respects. I admit this comes across to me as a bit lazy, like the performers couldn't be bothered to look up the basics of Old Occitan pronunciation. Mine would though be an anachronistic judgment. This performance — probably unwittingly — does reflect something often overlooked about the period. Gaucelm's piece was widely performed, and we happen to have hard evidence that it was sometimes performed by singers who were native speakers of Old French varieties. Such singers would have introduced features of their own vernacular into performance, like those nasalized vowels and deaffricated ch-, without any awareness or wariness of doing so. A 12th century Romance-speaker's attitude toward language was very different from ours.

This one here is by the Tre Fontane ensemble, a French medievalist group which focuses particularly on Aquitanian troubadours. It appears to be a free rendering of the basic melodic pattern, which I think borrows elements from manuscripts η, X and M, with lots of flourishes. The performer or arranger seems to have felt free to play around melismatically with the melody. This is quite a medieval way of doing it. (Tricia tells me she wishes more performers did it like this.)

This one here recorded by the Folger Consort is also heavily interpretative in an interesting way.

This one here is by the Kecskes Ensemble, and is rather different in mood from the above, showing just how much interpretative latitude exists. I wonder if this sort of performance reflects something of the mood in which sung dirges were performed at least some of the time, in the sense of being a "sung recitation." As Hendrik Van Der Werf notes: throughout the European Middle Ages and in some areas for long thereafter, the practice of singing or chanting rather than speaking a text went far beyond the realm of poetry, and extended to various mundane announcements by town criers, street vendors, beggars, and the like. Singing a poem, rather than speaking it, was not necessarily an artistic achievement. It may have just been a convenient and traditional way of raising one's voice in public.

My aim in working with Old Occitan material is to produce something that can be sung to the same melody as the Occitan text (in cases where the melody survives, anyway.) Occitan is like Chinese in being extremely easy to rhyme in. Easier than Italian. For the English translator, the rhyme-scheme can be accommodated with some assonance in place of full rhyme, in keeping with common practice of English-language singing today. The real nuisance is the duplication of feminine rhymes which imposes considerable burden. I've managed to wring them out everywhere except stanza 5 where the solutions that come to mind just don't seem right for the tone of the piece. There I've used an extremely loose semi-rhyme.

Lament for King Richard Lionheart (1199 AD)
By Gaucelm Faidit
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

It is an awful thing: the greatest pain
And purest grief that I have known to sting,
The ache that pushes me to tears again
Is mine to sing and tell while I can bear it.
The father and the captain of all merit,
Courageous noble Richard, England's king
Is dead. My God, the loss and harrowing. 
The words are strange to say, harsh to the ear.
The heart is hard that takes this with no tear.

The king is dead. A thousand years have passed
When there was not a one like him on earth.
Never again shall we meet Richard's match,
So bold and rich, so generous a commander
That even Darius' conqueror Alexander
Never gave so much of his own wealth forth.
Not Charlemagne nor Arthur matched his worth.
He had the world, if I am to be frank,
Hold him in fear and turn to him with thanks.

I marvel how in false and wicked times

A true, wise, courtly man could still remain.
When good words and great works mean less than crimes
Why make the slightest effort to be true now? 
For death with one blow showed what she can do now,
Wrested out of this world its best of men
Took honor, joy and good away again.
Now, seeing nothing can repel her wrath,
We should be less afraid to meet with death. 

Now, fearless king, what now is to become
Of bustling tourneys and the melée sword,
Of generous gifts, rich courts and champions,
Now they are dispossessed of you their master? 
What of those men abandoned to disaster
Who pledged themselves in court to you their lord
And waited on you for a swift reward?
And what of those you brought to power and wealth
Who wonder now if they should kill themselves?

They get a sordid life of pain and rue
And constant gnashing grief. That is their prize.  
While Saracens and Turks who once feared you  
As they had feared no man born of a mother
Will swell with so much pride, with each maneuver,
That we may not yet win the Tomb of Christ.
But so God wills. Had He willed otherwise
And you, my lord, lived on, in little time
You should have run them out of Palestine.

Now there's no hope of any prince or liege
Able to win it back from blasphemy. 
But all who come now to take up your siege 
Should think on how you sought esteem from others
As, while they lived, did your two braveheart brothers
The Young King and the Duke of Brittany.
Whoever it be who succeeds you three
Must have a high heart and rock-firm intent
To see every great exploit to the end.


My lord and king! May God the true forgiver,
True man, true life, true mercy and true Sire
Grant you in death the pardon you require. 
May He forget your failings and your sin
May He remember all you did for Him.

Fòrtz causa es que tot lo maior dan
E·l maior dòl — las — qu'ièu anc mais agues,
E çò dont dei tostemps planher plorant,
M'aven a dir en chantant e retraire.
Car cell qu'èra de valor chaps e paire,
Lo rics valents Ricartz, reis dels Englés,
Es mòrtz. Ai Dièus quals perd e quals dans es
Quant estranhs motz e quant greus az auzir
Ben a dur còr totz om qu'o pòt sofrir.

Mòrtz es lo reis! E son passat mil an
Qu'anc tant proṉs om noṉ fo, ni no·l vi res,
Ni mais non èr nulhs om del sieu semblant,
Tant larcs, tant rics, tant arditz, tals donaire,
Qu'Alixandres, lo reis qui venquèt Daire,
Noṉ cre que tant dones ni tant meses!
Ni anc Carles ni Arturs tant valgues,
Qu'a tot lo mond si fetz, qui·n vòl ver dir,
Als uṉs doptar et als altres grazir.

Meravilh-me del fals sègle truand,
Co·i pòt estar sàvis om ni cortes,
Puòis reṉ no·i val bèll dich ni fach presant,
E doncs per que s'esfòrç' om, pauc, ni gaire
Qu'ara nos a mostrat Mòrtz que pòt faire,
Qu'az uṉ sol còlp a·l melhor del mond pres,
Tota l'honor, totz los gauchs, totz los beṉs!
E pos vezem que res no·i pòt gandir,
Beṉ deurí' om menhs doptar a morir.

Ai valents reis sénher, e que faran
Uòimais armas ni fòrt tornei espes,
Ni ricas cortz ni bèll don alt e grand,
Puòis vos no·i etz, qui n'èratz capdellaire,
Ni que faran li liurat a maltraire,
Cilh que s'èran en vòstre servir mes,
Qu'atendíon que·l gazardoṉs vengues?
Ni que faran cilh, que·is dègran aucir,
Qu'aviatz fach en grand ricor venir?

Longa ira et àvol vid' auran,
E tostemps dòl, qu'enaici lor es pres!
E Sarrasiṉ, Turc, Paian e Persan,
Qu·us doptàvon mais qu'ome nat de maire,
Creisseran tant d'orguòlh en lor afaire,
Que·l Sepúlcres n'èr tròp plus tart conques
Mas Dièus o vòl que, s'el non o volgues,
E vos, sénher, visquessetz, ses falhir,
De Suría los avengr' a fugir.

Uòimais no·i a esperança qu·i an
Reis ni princes que cobrar lo saubes
Però, tuch cilh qu'en luòc de vos seran
Dèvon gardar com fotz de pretz amaire,
Ni qual fòron vòstre dui valent fraire,
Lo Jóveṉs Reis e·l cortés Coms Jaufrés!
Et qui en luòc remandra, de vos tres
Beṉ deu aver fiṉ còr e ferm cossir
De totz boṉs fachs començar e finir.


Ai sénher reis! Dièus, qu’es vers perdonaire,
vera vida, vers om, vera mercés,
vos faça cell perdoṉ que cochos es,
si que·l pecat oblida e·l falhir,
e·l membre çò en que saupès servir.

Prose gloss and commentary

Stanza 1 

It is a terrible affair that it befalls me to tell, as singer and recounter, all the greatest harm and greatest grief — alas — that I have ever had, and which makes me continuously lament in tears. For he who was the chief/peak and father of merit, the great and brave Richard, king of the English, is dead. Oh God, what a loss and what harm it is. What strange words, and how harsh to hear of. All who can bear it have hard hearts indeed.

The syntax of the first four lines is not convoluted. It makes good sense. But it is complex and that complexity probably led to the great many manuscript variants which yield a simpler syntax for these lines.

Ric means not just "wealthy" but "of great standing, noble, prestigious." A rics om may be a "rich man" or a "great/powerful man" depending on context. Note the rich pun on Richard's name. (Fun fact: both the adjective and the name are from the Frankish loanword rīki "lordly, wealthy." Cognate to Latin Rēx, Hindi Rājā, German Reich.)

With terms like estranhs motz "strange/foreign words" and greus ad ausir "harsh to hear" Gaucelm uses language commonly associated with hearing an incomprehensible foreign language. The death, in other words, does not compute. It does not make sense. This isn't how it's supposed to be. Heroes aren't supposed to die before they triumph.

Stanza 2

The king is dead, and a thousand years passed when such a valorous man did not exist, nor was seen by any, nor shall there be again any man of his caliber, so gracious, so rich, so bold, so generous. (That) I think not even Alexander, the king who conquered Darius, gave or spent so much, and neither Charlemagne nor King Arthur had such worth(iness). For if truth be told, he made all the world (some) fear him and (others) thank him. (Or: made all the world now fear him and then thank him.)

King Arthur was at this time generally believed to be a historical figure.

Alexander the Great was for medieval writers a paragon of generosity.

The sado-masochistic mixture of fear and gratitude has a double meaning. It expresses a power analogous to that of God who is also feared and thanked. By suggesting that the thanks and fear come from different quarters, it also hints at the brutality with which Richard treated those who opposed him or whom he felt threatened by, matched by the open-handedness with which he rewarded the loyal.

Stanza 3

I am amazed at the faithless and deceptive age/world, how (in it) a wise and courtly man could still be, because good words and praiseworthy deeds don't mean anything to it (the world) anymore, and therefore why should one make a little effort (to that end) or any at all? For now death has made plain what it can do, how with a single blow it took the best of the world, all honor, all joys and all good things! And since we see that nothing can protect against it (death), one really ought to fear dying much less.

Sègle like its latin etymon saeculum may mean both "world" and "age".

Stanza 4

Oh valiant king milord. What will become henceforth of feats of arms, and grueling tight-packed tourneys, and splendid courts and fine gifts great and grand, since you who were their leader are gone. What will they do who placed themselves in your service and expected you to reward them, and are now abandoned to ill-treatment. What will they do whom you had brought to great wealth and power, and who (now) would have reason to kill themselves?

que·is degran aucir lit. "who should kill themselves, who would needs kill themselves." The use of the 2nd conditional form degran implies that the action is hypothetical and remote from fact. i.e. "Those who might have to themselves now." Use of the 2nd conditional with verbs like dever sometimes implies subjective belief also. So one could read the phrase as "those who think they ought to kill themselves now, those who wonder whether they ought to kill themselves."

Stanza 5

Theirs will be an abiding sorrow/anger and a wretched existence, and constant grief, for such is their lot. And the Saracens, Turks, Pagans and Persians who feared you more than they feared any (other) man born of woman, will grow so much more arrogant in their actions, that the Sepulchre will be conquered from them much later. But God wants it so. For if he had not wanted it, and you milord were alive, without fail, they soon would needs have fled Syria.

In his note to line 3 of this stanza in his critical edition, Barachini says
Il verso indica gli avversari degli stati cristiani in Medio Oriente e denota una buona conoscenza dei gruppi (etno-)linguistici di quell’area: i Sarrazi, Saraceni, sono le popolazioni arabe; i Turc sono chiaramente le popolazioni turche di ceppo altaico, in origine mercenari dei califfi abbasidi, ma a quest’epoca già giunte al potere in diverse aree del califfato; i Persan sono le popolazioni iraniche, tra cui vanno annoverati anche i curdi, popolo a cui apparteneva Safadino (il fratello di Saladino), che allora controllava la maggior parte della Terra Santa, della Siria e dell’Egitto; quanto ai Payan, il termine generico vuole probabilmente indicare tutte le genti non cristiane ostili agli stati crociati, assoldate dai sultani (si pensi all’eterogenea provenienza dei Mamelucchi). Il verso va pertanto inteso nel seguente modo: «arabi, turchi, iranici e tutti gli altri miscredenti».
I am not at all convinced of this. 12th and 13th century Europeans could and did use the term Saracen/Sarrazi/Saracenus/etc. to refer to any Muslim, most often Arab but sometimes not. (Notably, they did not use the term in reference to Arab Christians, whom they had ample dealings with in Crusader states.) Apart from this, Barachini seems to assume on Gaucelm's part both a considerable knowledge of the ethnolinguistic makeup of the Muslim occupants of the Levant, and considerable care in accurately referring to them. There is no clear proof that Gaucelm himself had yet been to Outremer until some time after this poem's composition, and in fact all the passage implies is that Gaucelm knew these terms referred in one way or another to the infidel enemy. This is all the reason he would need in order to use the words as he does. The line is a merism: "all of Mahommetan heathenry." But that does not make it a specimen of ethnography.

Because I enjoy irony, it's worth mentioning that in referring to the heathen Muslims this way, Gaucelm is doing much the same thing as the Arabic poet Al-Mutanabbī did two centuries earlier in referring to the heathen Christian army composed of "Byzantines and Russians" vanquished by his patron Abu Hasan the Realm-sword (Sayfu l-Dawla), the Emir of Aleppo. Al-Mutanabbī may not have known and probably did not care about the ethnic makeup of the opposing forces. His aim was to portray Lord Realmsword as facing down soldiers hailing from all over heathen Christendom in an army where their "every tongue and nation was gathered together." As Al-Mutanabbi would tell it, Lord Realmsword was "not just a sovereign vanquishing his peer, but monotheism vanquishing paganism" (lasta malīkan hāziman linaẓīrihī walākinnaka l-tawḥīdu ˁalā l-širki hāzimu). This is, more or less, the same virtue that Gaucelm praises King Lionheart for, not just as a tactician keeping specific enemy powers at bay, but as a bulwark of the faithful against all enemies of God in the Holy Land. It probably also helped that "Byzantines and Russians" (al-rūmu wa-l-rūsu) made for memorable soundplay in Arabic. As, incidentally, do paian e persan in Occitan.

om nat de maire "man born of woman" is a biblical phrase "mortal man."

Stanza 6

Henceforth there is no hope that there will be a king or prince who will be able to win it back. That being so, all those who will be in your place must consider how you were a seeker of esteem, and what your two valiant brothers were like, the Young King and the courtly Count Geoffrey. Whoever will follow on in place of you three must really have a high heart and resolute mind to begin and to complete all great deeds

Another variant of the final line is De far bos fachs e de socors chausir. "to do good deeds and choose to give aid (i.e. in crusading.)
Gaucelm here moves from praise of the dead Richard to broader praise of the House of Plantagenet.


Oh lord king, may God the true forgiver, the true life, true man, true compassion, give you that pardon which is so urgently needed. So much may He forget (your) sins and failures, and remember the ways in which you were able to serve Him.

Richard was a popular ruler with the courtly crowds. People generally liked him. Or, at least, respected him. As Gaucelm indicates, he indirectly and directly made a great many men wealthy. He was also, as pundits like to put it today, "a polarizing figure" for some. Gaucelm expresses in this lament a complex of attitudes to cover the broadest swathe of sentiment. Even as he mentions Richard's excellence in war, in crusading, in noble sport, in courtly valor, in magnificent munificence, he also refers obliquely but extremely audibly to the fact that some disliked him and had reason to do so. Richard's readiness to conduct holy war was a great Christian virtue on its own, to be sure. (As uncomfortable as it may make modern Catholics, holy war was conceived of as a kind of exalted pilgrimage.) Relative irreligion could be passed over in silence by chroniclers, but his insistence on taxing churches and bending clerics to his preference was another matter. Such things might have given contemporary chroniclers (including the generally even-handed Ralph de Coggeshall) a bit of extra motivation to highlight unsavory elements of in Richard's character.

"Toxic masculinity" would be the term nowadays for many elements of Richard's personality. Contemporary accounts of his raping women exist, as do accounts of his cruelty, personal viciousness and fragile pride. (Modern historians are in resolute disagreement as to whether his breaking and entering of women was a way of compensating for the fact that women weren't the gender he really preferred to have sex with. Personally I think it's overreading. Aquitanian men of the time seem to have been given to flamboyant emotional openness, demonstrations of affection and physical closeness, including sharing a bed with a male friend. Such things are easily misinterpreted from the outside.) Richard's streak of cruelty had consequences. His impatience and callousness led to the massacre of several thousand Muslim prisoners after the taking of Acre, which provoked Saladin's retaliatory execution of several thousand Christian prisoners. This may be the sort of "failure" envisioned in these concluding lines.

Concluding thoughts:

The poem is replete with words taken from feudal terminology. Words such as proṉ, rics, onor, donaire, pretzvalor, valent, valer were terms of feudal obligation and are used in this poem to express feudal values. They are also used in love lyric to express valorous fidelity, infatuated servility, the worthiness of a lover etc. An important point in reading Old Occitan verse is that the language of feudal relations and obligations bled into the lyric or "poetic" register quite easily. Certainly by the time of this poem's composition, many feudal terms were experienced as "poetic" and exalted.

The feudality of elevated expression went beyond the strictly lexical, and the textual circumstances of this poem offer an excellent example. Manuscript witnesses to the final stanza of this poem attest two distinct versions. One in which the speaker addresses God and asks Him directly to intercede on King Ricartz' behalf, and another (the one given here) in which the speaker addresses King Ricartz and tells him he hopes that God will intercede on his behalf and forgive him. Both God and King are addressed in the respective versions as Sénher. (The use of Señor/Signore/Seigneur in Romance to refer to the Christian God, from a Latin etymon originally meaning "elder, superior" is another witness to this feudality.) The confounding of addressees in the text's transmission nicely illustrates how feudal vocabulary fused with religious sentiment.

This mood is difficult to capture in translation because the ideology that gave meaning to that mental universe is dead. An ideology, unlike doctrine or dogma, must be constantly created and verified in social life in order to make sense. If not, it dies, even if it is embodied in a form that may seem durable. As Barbara and Karen fields write in Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life:
Many Western Christians today still think of kneeling with folded hands as the appropriate posture for prayer, but few now know why; and the few who do know cannot, even if they wish to, mean the same thing by it as was meant by those to whom the posture was part of an ideology still real in everyday social life....The social relations that once gave explicit meaning to that ritual gesture of the vassal's subordination to his lord are now as dead as a dodo, and so, therefore, is the ideological vocabulary -including the posture of prayer- in which those social relations once lived.... [That original self-evident importance of the gesture existed only so long as] everyone in society stood in an explicit and nominally accepted position of inherited subordination to someone else: servant to master, serf to nobleman, vassal to overlord, overlord to king, king to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Ory Bernstein: Abraham Turned Human (From Hebrew)

Abraham Turned Human
By Ory Bernstein
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

She didn't promise me anything else,
Didn't tempt me with a thing or try. 
Not when I went out ahead of the army
and not when the army passed by. 

One of my sons I sent to die,
the other I tried to sacrifice,
while I maintained an innocence
no longer useful or wise.

When all the prophecies come to pass
as, for evil, they always do,
My eyes like a heifer's eyes will rise
pleadingly toward you. 

Behold me in my affliction, see
my days are numbered and bound. 
I was, after all, just a happenstance 
for things to happen around. 

Audio of me reciting this translation in English

Audio of me reciting this poem in Hebrew

Commentary with Literal Translation:

The Original:

אברהם נעשה אנושי

לֹא הִבְטַחְתְּ לִי דָּבָר שׁוֹנֶה.
לֹא פִּתִּית אוֹתִי בְּדָבָר.
גַּם כְּשֶׁיָּצָאתִי לִפְנֵי הַמַּחֲנֶה,
וְגַם כְּשֶׁהַמַּחֲנֶה עָבַר.

יֶלֶד אֶחָד שָׁלַחְתִּי לָמוּת,
וְאֶחָד נִסִּיתִי לַעֲקֹד.
וְשָׁמַרְתִּי עַל תְּמִימוּת 
שֶׁלֹּא תְּסַיַּע לִי עוֹד.

וּכְשֶׁכָּל הַנְּבוּאוֹת מִתְקַיְּמוֹת –
וְתָמִיד מִתְקַיְּמוֹת לְרַע – 
עֵינַי אֵלֶיךָ מוּרָמוֹת 
בִּתְחִנָּה, כְּעֵינֵי פָּרָה.

רְאֵה אוֹתִי בְּעָנְיִי, רְאֵה
אוֹתִי כְּשֶׁיָּמַי נִסְפְּרוּ.
הָיִיתִי, כִּכְלוֹת הַכֹּל, רַק מִקְרֶה 
שֶׁסְּבִיבוֹ הַדְּבָרִים קָרוּ.

Max Allier: My Face (From Occitan and French)

My Face
By Max Allier
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

This is my face
Raised in the heat of the age
It is bare
as a rockface roughed up by air
clenched like a fist
While it bears the land's pain
blistered in bitterness
like a fruit raised in the wilderness
it wasn't scalding sun or lashing rain
that made it what it is

Men living long before me wore it
and bore it over centuries
in battles of this world 
for liberty 
Its chilling smell of scorch
is from the heretic-incinerating torch
Its past has come to plead 
the future's case before the present court

With its faidit guerrilla gaze 
which has burrowed in pain through the years
it recalls the Huguenots
whipped by the King's Dragoons and shot
Their shrieks still haunt these ears
They are my company
in the battles I must face
on the journey of new days

My face is a dream 
blackened with the blood with the dust
on living men they tried a hundred times to crack 
But the mold is still intact
some saved it for us
and in that mold our children will be cast

Max Allier's early poetry is laden with Cathars, Camisards and Brebets, evoking the spirit of "Occitan resistance" throughout history. This poem from his first book, one of his most famous, is a prime example.

That subject of Timeless Occitan Struggle was to become a tiresome cliché and kitch-staple, which Michel Miniussi skewered in a polemic in 1989. The Albigensian Crusades, the Camisards, the fall of Duke Montmorency and other such episodes are easily and often dragooned into serving as an explanation for Occitan issues in the present moment. This easily fires Romantic blood. But Romantic blood, though a rather combustable substance, does not usually produce a very good light to see by. Explaining the problems of the present as flowing from the problems of the past is usually poor history, and this is no exception. The persecution of Cathars and Camisards, Simon de Montfort, the Croquants and Barbets are relevant to present problems only because they continue to be used as symbols. They cannot actually explain anything about modern Occitania anymore than the Book of Exodus can explain Benjamin Netanyahu's foreign policy. As Maxime Rodinson put it in Marxisme et Monde MusulmanLes mythes peuvent être utiles à certaines mobilisations, mais ils finissent par mystifier ceux-là mêmes qui les manipulent, par les aveugler et par les égarer. L'évasion dans les mythes, spécialement le recours au passé pour éluder les problèmes du présent sont encore des signes de faiblesse. S'il faut des idées-forces pour guider l'action, il est souhaitable qu'elles soient aussi proches que possible du réel.

The Original:


Aici ma cara
A la raja dau temps l’ai quilhada
Es nuda
coma la ròca dau vent batuda
e mai barrada coma un ponh
S’a dau mau de la terra maire
e que sià rabinada
coma un fruch boscàs
son pas los complògs ni las sorelhadas
que l’endevenguéron atal

D’òmes vius abans ieu l’an cargada
e mai auborada
dins las contéstas secularas
per la libertat
Son uscle sauvertós
l’ a pres dau fuòc que cremèt los erétges
e son passat plaideja
per l’endevenidor

Ambé sos aires de faidit
qu’a grand afan trauquét l’istòria
se membra de las Uganaudas
jorgadas per los Dragons dau réi
Sos quialars me trevan encara
Son eles que me fan companha
nud quand téne còp dins las batalhas
sus lo camin dels temps novéls

Ma cara es un pantais
mascarat de sang de polvéra
que sus los vius cent còps volguèron aclapar 
Mas lo mòtle es sencér
D’unes lo sauvéron
Los manits i seràn pastats .

Voici mon visage
Levé dans le temps qui fait rage
Il est nu
Comme un rocher du vent battu
Et serré comme un poing
Son mal c’est celui de la terre
S’il est âpre et sévère
Comme un fruit des bois
Ce n’est ni le soleil ni la pluie torrentielle
Qui l’ont fait tel qu’on le voit

Des vivants avant moi l’ont porté
Et l’ont hasardé
Dans les luttes séculaires
Pour la liberté
S’il sent le roussi
Il le doit au feu qui brûla les Cathares
Et son passé vient à la barre
Plaider pour l’avenir

Avec ses traits de partisan
Qui durement traversa l’histoire
Il se souvient des Camisardes
Cravachées par les Dragons du roi
Leurs cris me hantent encore
Ce sont eux qui m’accompagnent
Quand je fais front dans les batailles
Sur le chemin des temps nouveaux

Mon visage est un rêve
Souillé de sang et de poussière
Sur les vivants cent fois qu’on a voulu briser
Mais le moule est intact
Quelques uns l’ont sauvé
Nos enfants y seront coulés.

Max Allier: Days of Shame (From Occitan and French)

Max Allier, veteran of the French Resistance during WWII and of the Spanish Civil War, was unusual for an Occitan poet of his time in that he had no patience with nationalism of any kind, nor any sympathy for the backward-looking conservatism and sepia-tinged nostalgia of the Felibritge. A fiery socialist and communist, this poet of "Red Occitania" wrote in Occitan not out of nationalist conviction, but because it was the language spoken by the farmers and tradesmen he allied himself with. He also did so, I think, because it allowed him to go free of the stylistic straightjacket imposed by normative literary French. In Occitan you are far freer to write like you talk. The poem here, published in 1965, is from the cycle La Crida, an impressionistic retrospective reaction to wartime Europe.

Occitan was not Allier's first language. Born in Montpelier, he was raised and educated in Paris. He first encountered the language at the age of 12, when he happened across Aubanel's La Miugrana Entreduberta with a translation. But for this, he explains in a letter to Robert Lafont, "no doubt I would never have learned our Occitan language."  

Allier said that his French versions are different versions from the Occitan poems. Not simply translations (in the subordinate sense) of the Occitan poems, but different versions equal to them. The Occitan was not always written first, though it usually was. Allier sometimes went back to the Occitan and revised it with phrasing he had first worked out in the French version. In this poem, for example, a later printing has "d'òmes escurs salits de l'ombra" for "d'òmes espelits de las ombras." This revision transparently based on, or inspired by, Allier's French rendering "Des hommes obscurs, nés de l’ombre."

He writes in his introduction to Solstici 
D'escriure en òc sembla una cotralada au sègle de l'atòma e te fai espelir unas risas trufairas sus las bocas dau mond que se creson. Te venon pietadoses : De qu'es aquel pescaluna, aquel pinhastre, que quita pas de s'exprimir dins una lenga que la compren digús ? Perqué non en francés ?... Li poiriái repotegar : E perqué non en chinés ? Mès non o farai. Que seriá pas onèste de simplificar antau un empèri de tant entrepachos que çai non es lo luòc de'n parlar. Aimariái au contrari que non se laguièsse d'aquò lo legeire que dobrirà aqueste quasèrn. La lenga d'òc soi pas d'aqueles que se pensan que cabís un trelutz que, dins la revirada francesa que de son obra donan, s'avalís. Francés emai occitan, son mieunas las doas lengas e soi tant de biais emb una coma l'autra. Aquestes poemas, los engimbrère en francés tant coma en òc. Non cridarai : Avalisca ! se li fan la bèba los que forestièrs a la lenga d'òc los auràn legits pas qu'en francés. Aici i a pas de revirada e la dicha « traduttore, traditore » non ista ben. Tras las doas lengas son dos rebats d'un sol fanau. Se lo trobas fosc, la peca non es dau veire o de sa color. Vai simplement qu'au lum de l'autor es de manca l'òli
The only way to translate this is as a tongue-in-cheek paraphrase:
Writing in Occitan seems like a screwy move in the Age of the Atom. When you do, you get mocking laughs from jumped-up folk who come, all pity, asking: What's up with this pigheaded crackpot who won't stop using a language nobody understands? Why doesn't he just do it in French? I could grouse right back at them: well why not in Chinese? I could, but I won't. It wouldn't be honest of me here to simplify such a messy can of worms which this isn't the place to pry open. I'd like for the reader opening this book to not get too hung up about that. I'm not one of those people who thinks that Occitan harbors this special brilliance which, when your work is translated into French, is profaned and erased. French and Occitan are both languages of mine, and I am as much at home in the one as in the other. I wrote these poems in both French and Occitan. I won't cry "oh the profanity!" even if others get pouty at the Occitan-impaired who will have read these poems only in French. Here there are no translations, and no place for the old saw "traduttore, traditore." The two languages give two reflections of a single beacon's light. If it's obscure, don't blame the glass or its tint. The author's lamp is just out of oil.
This is what Allier says of himself. Some Occitan nationalists disagreed, and expressed their misgivings in the generative grammar of secular mysticism. 

I decided to take Allier at his word. To that end I have included both Allier's French and Occitan versions of this poem. I have also allowed both the French and Occitan to inform the translation into English. My translation corresponds neither to the French nor to the Occitan, but draws at will from both. At every juncture I freely went with whichever option seemed like it would work best in English. When both were equally promising, I gave priority to the Occitan. I have tried to make Allier's translation ethic my own to some degree. Allier often did what felt right in his self-translations, and allowed himself great latitude. For example, Astorias in the Occitan is replaced with Corogne, the French exonym for Coruña, a province of Galicia in Northwest Spain. It seems obvious to me that this was to preserve the assonance, and that actual geography was of secondary importance. So I substituted "Carnota" (a town within Coruña) in the English for the same reason.  

I have preserved the non-punctuation of Allier's Occitan version (the French version is punctuated in standard fashion.)

Days of Shame
(In memory of the Spanish Civil War)
By Max Allier
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

I have lived through the days of shame 
but my era has burrowed its path
through history's dark barrow
face down and bleeding with man
Men insurgent from shadow
told evil You Will Not Pass

I remember Barcelona
Spain bloomed from sea to sea
The Popular Front summer
comes up like a sun in me
Granada Madrid and Carnota 
in my flesh are golden needles

I hold in my heart Catalonia
the squares of unpaved Montjuïc
I see that cul-de-sac holding
the girl The red on her cheek
fires on the shadow cloaking
the sun of liberty.

Wind stirs Rising morning
rouses the guerrilla faidits
Names burst on my lips bleeding over 
like mulberries....I hear free
rocks crash again My ferocious
country cuts off the Beast

Twenty years But sometimes even now
the song of the fountains clouds
A shadow Your shadow Grimau
in bloody regret bends down
And the fierce widow Alhambra
in red night burns on black ground

It is hard to become a human
It's a long and wounding way
in the narrative whirlwind of atoms
to Icarus from Ape
and a nasty fight in the shadows
for justice to the slave

Screaming half-blind under rubble
my era will still have saved
man Up from the muddle he straggles
to meet the hell of a day
dragging his balky shadow
across the Milky Way

The Original:

Ai viscut los jorns de vergonha
Amb aquò mon temps a traucat
l'istòria entrumida dau monde
morre nud Grèus d'umanitat
d'òmes espelits de las ombras
an dich au mau Non passaràs

Ieu me ramente Barcelona
Espanha en flors de mar en mar
Dins ieu còma un sorelh repofa
l'estiu dau Frente Popular
Madrid Granada las Astorias
son d'espinhas d'aur dins mas carns     

T'ai tota en mon còr Catalonha
Montjuic los plans descaladats
e vese au canton d'una androna
la filha ambé sa risa roja
fai petar l'ombra que s'acorcha
au solelh de la libertat

L'aura bolega Una auba monta
que fai se levar los faidits
De noms me sannan sus las bocas
còma d'amoras Tòrne ausir
los ròcs que trestomban Ferotge
chapla lo Dragàs mon païs

Vint ans Mas de còps dins lo suau
las fònts son rajòu se trebola
Una ombra Ton ombra Grimau
ensannosida se i amorra
E d'un vam l'Alambra aveusat
crema de temps dins la nuòch roja

Saique es de mau se faire un òme
Fai patir lo camin que vai
dins los revolums de l'istòria
de l'òme monina a l'Icar
Es de grèu de luchar de lònga
per la justicia dels pelaus

Bòrni idolant jot tant d'escombres
mon temps aurà pasmens sauvat
l'òme A dapàs de l'embolh monta
dòrs lo rescòntre que se fai
Pinhastre s'agandís son ombra
sul camin que Sant Jaume trai
J’ai vécu les jours de la honte…
Cependant ce siècle a troué
l’histoire orageuse du monde
d’un front poignant d’humanité.
Des hommes obscurs, nés de l’ombre,
ont dit au crime : voie barrée !

Je me rappelle Barcelone,
l’Espagne en fleurs entre deux mers.
En moi comme un soleil remonte
cet été du Front Populaire.
Madrid, Grenade, La Corogne,
sont des pointes d’or dans ma chair.

J’ai dans mon cœur la Catalogne,
Montjuich, les places dépavées.
Je vois dans un angle de porte
la fille, aux cheveux une rose,
mettre en joue l’ombre qui clignote
au soleil de la liberté.

J’entends le vent. Son chant qui roule
fait se lever les partisans.
Des noms s’écrasent sur la bouche
ainsi que des mûres. J’entends
les rocs qui s’écroulent. Farouche
mon pays cerne le serpent.

Vingt ans… Mais parfois dans le soir
la chanson des fontaines se trouble.
Une ombre, ton ombre Grimau ?
vers nous comme un remords se tourne.
Et loin l’Alhambra, bûcher noir,
brûle longtemps dans la nuit rouge…

Il est dur de se faire un homme.
Il est long le chemin qui va,
dans le tourbillon des atomes,
du singe ancestral à Icare.
On s’épuise à lutter dans l’ombre
pour que demain le jour flamboie !

Hurlant, tout saignant de ses crimes,
notre âge aura pourtant sauvé
l’homme. Sur un monde en gésine
son enfer jette des clartés.
C’est le char du passé qu’il tire
par le chemin des Voies Lactées.

Rotland Pecot: Passer-By at Cuzco (From Occitan)

Passer-by at Cuzco
By Rotland Pecot
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

The stones up there that saw you pass
Do not hold the reflected light 
Or rumbled echoes of your fight.
Altitude wore you down at last. 

Your doppelgänger stayed behind. 
Your thoughts are split in games of risk
And the cold light is blown to bits
Which you had anchored in the wind. 

Atahualpa's Sacsayhuamán,
A green Atlantis under blood,
Does not remember what it was
Since the setting of its last sun.

But be your hand right on the mark
At which the orphan in your dark
Dream will take aim, and take revenge 
For all your people dispossessed.

Audio of me reciting this poem in Occitan

The Original:

Lo passejaire de Cuzco

Lei pèiras que t’an vist passar
An pas servat ni lo rebat
Ni lo resson de tei combats.
L’autura t’aviá alassat.

Ton doble amont es demorat.
As l’èime entre quatre Cantons
Lo lum freg, trencat a quartons,
Dins leis auras l’as ancorat.

Sacsayhuaman d’Ataualpà,
Atlantida verda de sang,
Dempuei qu’anèron s’ajaçant,
Lei soleus, se reconeis pas.

Mas ta man sàpia destriar
La tòca que dins son pantais
L’orfanèu afusta a bèu talh
Per son pòble despatriat.

Enric Espieut: Provence (From Occitan)

By Enric Espieut
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

The words I want to get have been forgotten
In the abysses of a people's flesh,
Seas shake the precincts of oblivion
And silence hides itself away in silence.

Black night sees them seeking, in its heat,
The radiant water that awaits
While the wind up there plays on
For bitter joy of eagles. 

A dream will move them, my sovereign lady,
A trapped gleam, a slave's dream,
And in a stream of light unchained
Star and wage and joy will be all that is lost.

The Original:


Li mots que li vòle son delembrats
Dins lo gorg de la carn d’un pòble,
La mar estrementís li barris de l’oblit,
Lo silenci s’escond dins lo silenci.

La negra nuech li vei cercar dins sa combor
L’aiga de rais qu’espèra
Entre es amont que jòga l’aura
E per l’amara gaug dis aglas.

Un sòmí li mourà, ma sobeirana,
lume resclaus, sòmi d’esclau,
E dins un rec de lutz sensa cadenas,
Estèla e paga e gaug serà tot çò perdut.