Occitan poetry  980-2006

by Joan-Frederic Brun


 Josèp d'Arbaud (Joseph d'Arbaud) (1874-1950)

Medieval poetry: the kingdom of love
XVI-XVIII century: tasty baroque antiliteratures
XIX th century: toward a renaissance
XIX th century (1854-1914):  spreading and sclerosis of the Provençal miracle
XX th century (1920-1965): the anguish of no future
XX th century (1965-1981): "un país que vòl viure" (a country that just wants to live)
XX th century (1981-2000): postoccitanisme
XXI th century: just a living literature among many other ones? 


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Born in Meyrargues (Bouches du Rhône), died in Aix en Provence. 

Frederic Mistral wrote to him "You are the greatest of all them". Joseph d'Arbaud was the son of the poet Azalaïs d'Arbaud (la Felibresso dóu Cauloun: 1834-1917) author of a very nice book of Provençal poems "lis Amouro de Ribas" , and known as the first female poet of modern Provençal literature. 


And thus, Joseph grew with both cultures: high standard Greek, Latin and French classic literature, and popular spoken Occitan. He had the profound feeling of the outstanding power of this forgotten and neglected language, and decided, influenced by the master Frederic Mistral, to devote all his life to its revival. And, as he explains in the poems you'll read below, he made the choice to live in the mystic heart of Provence, the fascinating marshes of Camargue, where his cousin Folco de Baroncelli had decided to spend his life for saving the legendary breeds of prehistoric bulls and horses and share the wild life of "gardians", ie herdsmen that spent their daytime on horses to shepherd black savage bulls in the middle of nowhere, in a country of light, water and mirages, and speaking only Provençal, ie, the oriental variety of Occitan. 

Almost one century later, when I discovered also this fascinating lost world, this was still true. The millenial language of Troubadours, forgotten everywhere else, was there the every day language. And everything in this life was poetry...


Lou lausié d'Arle (1913)


Mounte soun la clarour de l'aubo e l'abrivado
Di chivau s'esbroufant dins lou vènt matinié?
Lou fougau mando i plat lusènt de l'estanié
Sa michour douço e lou rebat de la flamado,

Lou cat dor sus mi cambo e roundino, estendu.
En escoutant lou vènt que despampo li souco,
Iéu sounje à tant de grun qu'ai quicha sus mi bouco,
Sounje à tant de draiòu mounte me siéu perdu.

Ma jouinesso s'en vai coume li dindouleto
Quand veson s'avança li nèblo sus la mar,
E la coupo es asclado e lou vin es amar
E dins lou cors malaut l'amo se sènt souleto.


Amaro finicioun de tout pantai uman!
La chato de moun cor, amourouso e ravido,
Jamai, sus lou lindau de la porto flourido,
Dins l'oustau dis aujòu, l'adurrai pèr la man.


Pode ravasseja davans la chaminèio,
Soulet, pode caufa mi man sus li cafiò;
Jamai lis ausirai, alentour de moun fiò,
Lou trepa dous e lou piéuta de la ninèio.


La braso dóu fougau fai lusi l'estanié,
Lou cat roundino; sus l'oustau l'oumbro davalo
E la niue, s'alargant, nous adus sus sis alo
Un pau mau de tristesso e de malancounié.


Pamens pèr li carriero e li muraio blanco,
Cavalié, m'abrivave au soulèu de miejour
Emé lou ferre au poung e la taiolo is anco.

Quand partian di sansouiro à la primo dóu jour,
Li chato amoulounado i porto di cabano,
Emé soun rire fres nous cridavon: - bonjour!

Mai serious, plega dins li bernous de lano,
A l'auro dóu matin butavian nòsti tau
E lou soulèu levant fasié lusi li bano.

Ourguianço di fort, cresènço di catau,
Ruscle di counquistaire abriva dins li vilo,
Erias nostre quand passavian sout li pourtau:

- Vese à noste endavans li gènt courre pèr milo,
La póusso revouluno e, dins lou chamatan
S'ausis, long dis oustau, lou femelan que quilo;

- Ardit! Sarro ti biòu, que lou baile es davans!
Au galop, imbrandable, intravian dins l'areno
E li chato, is autin, nous picavon di man.

Pièi, quand l'errour venié, davans la niue sereno,
Quiha sus lis estriuéu, se tiravian dóu round
En butant nòsti tau prim coume d'alabreno

E lou sang di chivau bagnavo l'esperoun.


Ai las! Quau me rendra lou tèms dis abrivado,
La baisso paluniero e li sablas mouvènt?
Quau butara lou sang que dor dins mi courado?

Sus la branco passido e la bourro neblado,
Quau fara reflouri mi raive de jouvènt?
Quau me rendra la sello rousso e li sounaio

E lou ferre pougnènt dardant si tres pounchoun
E lou dur cavalot sela pèr la bataio?
Jamai, à moun entour, veirai plus la vacaio

E li tau barrulaire espandi dins li jounc,
Jamai ausirai plus lou crid de mi cavalo...
La braso dóu fougau fai lusi l'estanié,

Lou cat roundino, sus l'oustau l'oumbro davalo
E la niue s'alargant, nou adus sus sis alo
Un pau mai de tristesso e de malancounié.


And so did Joseph d'Arbaud. With his cousin Folco de Baroncelli he was one of the crazy men who succeeded to re-create a powerful popular culture in Provence and Languedoc, centered on a poetic dream of wildlife he amazingly described in his verses. And nowadays at the onset of the XXIth century this Camarguese culture is even more alive and powerful as ever. 

This return to shepherds' wild language made by men with an outstanding classic culture deeply renewed the style of Occitan writing. Especially prose, whose d'Arbaud is unequivocally the first modern giant master in Occitan language. Unfortunately, due to health concerns, the great poet could not live for a long time in Camargue. And this country became for him a lost paradise, the central matter of all his writings until his death.     

Most of d'Arbaud greatest works actually appeared many years after his death. He's considered as the greatest author of modern Provençal literature after Frederic Mistral. Most of his poems have been passionately read and told by generations of horseriders in Camargue, keeping Provençal language the absolute reference for Camargue, its bulls and its horses.   

Lou lausié d'Arle (1913), la bèstio dou Vacarés (1926), Li Cant Palustre(1951)...

Obro pouetico (1974). )


The bay-tree of Arles (1913)

Autumnal season

Where are the clearness of dawn, and the stampede of neighing horses in the morning wind? The oven gives out to shiny dishes its soft warmth and its gleams of flames. 

The cat sleeps on my legs and purrs, stretched. While I listen to the wind striking the stumps, I think of so many fruit I pressed on my lips, I think of so many paths where I lost my way.

My youth is fleeing away like swallows When they see fog creeping over the sea; And the cup is cracked and the wine, bitter And in an ailing body heart feels lonesome. 

Bitter end to any human dream! The young girl of my heart, in love and charmed, I'll never lead by the hand on the threshold of the flowered door, in the ancestral home. 

I may dream and dream in front of my chimney...  Lonesome, I can heat my hands on the hearth stones; I'll never hear around my fire, the soft trampling and  cries of young children. 

Embers of the hearth make the wall plate glow, the cat is purring; shadows fall on the house  And the advancing night, , brings us on its wings Some more sadness and melancholy.



Yet, when I was a horseman, along white streets and walls, I galopped under the midday sun, with my pitchfork in hand and the large belt on my hips,

While leaving marshy moors, at daybreak, young maidens gathered at the doors of the huts, with their fresh laughter, bade us a good morning.

But we, self-conscious, rolled in our wool coats, in the breath of the morning we herded our cattle and the rising sun glistened the horns.

Pride of the strong, smugness of chiefs, appetite of conquerors rushed through cities, you were ours while we passed under the gates: 

"I see, coming to greet us, thousands of people running, dust whirls, and, in the tumult, one could hear, among houses, the shrill cries of women; 

Go on, herd your cattle, for the chief rides ahead! " And, galloping, unmoveable, we would enter the arena And young girls, on balconies, would clap us in. 

Later, when came the evening, before the calm night, straight in our stirrups, we would leave the pen, driving out our skinny bulls

And the blood from horses drenched the spurs.


Alas! who will give me again the season of stampedes, the low plains crisscrossed by rivers and quicksand? Who will stir this blood asleep in my arteries? 

On the faded branch and the wounded bud, who will make my dreams of youth bloom again? Who will give me back the fawn-coloured saddle and the small bells 

And the pointed fork darting its three spikes? And the little hard horse saddled for battle? I will never again see  around me herds of cows 

and bulls scattered in snap rings, I will never again hear the cry of my mares The embers of my hearth make the metal plate gleam, 

The cat purrs, on the house the shadows fall And the advancing night, brings us on its wings A little more sadness and melancholy.


"Li cant palustre" 


 "Paludous songs" (1975)


Esperit de la Terro

S'ère vengu dóu tèms que li raço pacano
Batien touto la terro en butant si troupèu
E que, rèn qu'emé si bastoun e si mantèu,
Eron mestresso dis auturo e de la plano ;

Se lis estello o la sentido dóu bestiau
M'aguèsson, un bèu jour, adu dins lis engano,
Aqui, auriéu planta moun tibanèu de lano
E tra sus lou sablas la pèiro dóu fougau.

E libre, apassiouna pèr la mar e lis astre,
Amourous de la gardo e mèstre di salanc,
En menant moun avé, lou bastoun à la man,
Auriéu viscu cènt an coume vivien li pastre.

S'ère vengu dóu tèms que, pèr èstre quaucun,
N'i avié proun d'èstre un ome e d'ama soun terraire,
Me sariéu fa basti, liuen de tout, pèr li Fraire,
Un grand castèu de pèiro en raro di palun.

Lou matin, en vesènt lusi la mar poumpouso,
Auriéu durbi ma porto au boufe dóu vènt-larg,
De-vèspre, la voues di troubaire e di jouglar
M'aurié canta lou bèu mé li causo amourouso.

Troubaire e cavalié, mai libre Prouvençau,
Afeciouna pèr lou bèn-dire e la bouvino,
Toustèms auriéu mescla dins moun amo latino
Li pouèmo di pastre e di libre gregau.

Mai siéu vengu d'un tèms que se respèton gaire
La liberta di pastre e li trobo di vièi;
Sèmpre gibla sout la jougato de la lèi,
Li jouvènt an quita la jargo ené l'araire.

Amo de nòsti vièi enclauso dins sis os,
Esperit de la terro ounte dormon li raço,
Pèr nous autre, t'a mai bandi foro dóu cros
La forço dóu soulèu e la voues de l'aurasso.

Vaqui perqué dins lou reiaume de la sau,
Vira de-vers la mar espère ta vengudo,
Pèr te mies apara, pèr te presta d'ajudo,
Me siéu fa gardo-bèstio e cante prouvençau.


Spirit of the Earth

If I'd come at the time when the Gardian nation
wandered all over the Earth while goading its herds,
and, just with its sticks and coats,
ruled over mountains and plains.

If the stars, or the sixth sense of the beasts,
had brought me one day to the marshes,
it is there I would have planted my tent of wool
and laid on the sand the stone of my fireplace.

And, free, bewitched by sea and stars,
In love with shepherding and master of the salt marshes,
while leading my herd, stick in hand,
I would have lived to a hundred, as did sheperds.


If I had been born when, to be somebody,
enough to be a man and love his land,
I would have had built far from all, by the Brothers,
a large stony castle on the edge of marshes.

In the morning, glared by the majestic sea,
I would have opened my door to the breath of sea winds.
In the evening, the voice of troubadours and jugglers
would have sung for me beauty and things of love.

Troubadour and horseman, but free Provençal,
impassioned by flowery language and bull herds,
I'd have always mixed, in my Latin heart
The poems of shepherds and those of old Greek books.

But, lo, I came here at a time Of little respect
for the freedom of the shepherds and the poems of the old.
Ever bent under the yoke of Law,
The young have forsaken the cloak and the plough.

Spirit of the Earth where nations slumber,
soul of our ancestors enclosed within their bones,
the strength of the sun and the voice of high winds
for us, again, released you from the tomb.

This is why, therefore, in the kingdom of salt,
Staring at the sea, I wait for your coming.
To better shield you, to give you assistance,
I became a herdsman and sing in Provençal

La gardiano

Vène dins moun oustau, piéucello prouvençalo,
Tu qu'as sounja l'amour e l'as pas jamais vist.
De moun lindau toustèms badant coume li nis,
Veiras passa d'aucèu estrange, à grand cop d'alo.

Vène, l'oustau es blanc coume un iéli marin;
Tout sara tiéu: veici li clau de la paniero,
La taulo de nouguié, la mastro e li cadiero,
Lou gardo-raubo a la sentour dóu roumarin.

Se l'oustau es pichot, siéu rèi d'un grand reiaume:
(Fai-me 'n poutoun d'amour, baio-me toun anèu),
Te vole counquista de reiaume tant bèu
Que se n'en parle plus di rèi d'Arle o d'En Jaume

Siéu rèi. Ai de cavalo eila, de-vers lou grau,
Siéu mèstre d'un troupèu de biòu mé si dountaire
E tène de metis; li pastre castejaire
Me gardon milo anouge au mitan de la Crau.

Lis èrso de la mar que bagnon mi parage
Canton coume uno voues, de l'aubo à jour-fali,
Lou souleias de moun païs fai espeli
En l'èr de lono bluio e de font de mirage;

Vène, te dounarai moun plus bèu cavalot,
Es blanc coume uno nèu, manse coume uno chato,
L' abrivaras , veiras , au pica d e si bato,
L'aigo de la palun regiscla coume un fiò.

De-niue, en escoutant lou resson di platello,
Lou parla di gardaire e lou bram de mi tau,
S'agandiren, au clar de luno, vers l'oustau
E t'aprendrai lou noum di bèstio e dis estello.

Foro di lèi e di ciéuta, Diéu m'a fa rèi;
Se siéu ageinouia i pèd d'uno chatouno,
Es que sa voulounta pèr te plaire, me douno
La bèuta di gènt jouine e l'idèio di vièi.

Lady of wild bulls

Come in my house, you Provençal girl, who have dreamed love and never seen it! My threshold is always open, like bird nests. You will see strange birds, flapping their way through

Come on! The house is white, like a marine lily; And all will be yours: here are the keys of the cupboard, the table of walnut tree, the kneader and chairs, the wardrobe with a scent of rosemary. 

Though my house is small, I’m the king of a wide domain: (Give me a love kiss, offer me your ring). I want to conquer for you such beautiful realms to put to shame kings of Arles or James the Conqueror.

I’m a king. I own a herd of mares, by the estuary. I’m the owner of a herd of bulls with its oxen and cross bulls. Shepherds keep for me thousands of lambs across the Crau. 

Waves of the sea that bathe my vicinities sing like a voice from dawn to dusk. The great sun of my country creates in the air blue lakes and  springs of mirages; 

Come, I'll give you my most beautiful horse: he's white like a snow, peaceful like a maiden. You will gallop on him, and see, under his feet striking the ground, the water of the marsh flashing back like a fire. 

By night, while listening to the echoes of bells, to the speech of shepherds and to the mooing of my bulls, we’ll walk under the moonlight, towards the house, and I‘ll tell you the names of animals and stars. 

Far from laws and cities God made me a king; If I kneel at the feet of a maiden, that’s because He gave me, for charming you, the beauty of youngsters and the wisdom of old men. 


Quand blanquejon li sansouiro
Au dardai di souleiado,
Quand sus la vastour esterlo
S'espandis la calourasso,
A l'ouro que la bouvino
Pèr païs s'acampo e chaumo,
léu m'envau, tau que m'agrado,
Sus lou camin de mi sounge.

Dins li clavo entre-secado,
Vese flouri la salino,
De-long la plajo sablouso,
Moun chivau tanco sa bato ;
Lou soulèu e lou cèu linde
E la terro miraclouso
E l'estang brèsson moun amo
Au balans de ma mounturo ;
En patusclant pèr la gaso,
Dins li belu que regisclon,
Sènte pica sus mi bouco
Lou respous de l'aigo amaro.
E vese, alin, coume uno isclo
Que pounchejo e que s'estiro
Negreja sus lis engano
Li mourven de Radeliero.
En esvartant la bounaço,
Subran boufo uno alenado,
Lou respir de la marino
Nous remounto e nous reviéudo.
L'aucelas qu'amount travèsso,
En ramant à grand cop d'alo,
Counèis proun l'ome e la bèstio
Que caminon dins lou vaste ;
Nous a proun vist, long di raro,
Arrambaire de bouvino,
Treva la baisso febrouso
E cousteja lis abime ;
Nous a proun vist, tèsto souto,
E tant las de nosto plego,
Nous enveni vers lou mounde
En rebalant nosto lagno.
Mai aro, la lus clarejo,
Un rebat viro e s'acampo,
Uno aigo cour, s'estalouiro
E, dourmihouso, s'alargo :
Sourgènt jouve dóu mirage,
Font mouvènto dóu mistèri,
Tant qu'ai set, leissas-me béure
E me bagna dins vosto aigo.
Quand, sus la vastour esterlo,
S'espandis la calourasso,
Que lou dardai fantaumejo
E que lou mirage danso,
Sus lou nus de la sansouiro,
Sus li lono e lis engano,
A l'ouro que la bouvino
Pèr païs s'acampo e chaumo,
Sus li gaso afangassido,
Sus li sablas di mountiho,
Li flour de l'escandihado
Soun mai bello que li sounge.




When the salted mud pits bleach Under the radiation of the sun When on the arid vastness the heat wave extends At the hour when cattles in the meadow gather and sleep, I go, as I like, on the way of my dreams. 

In the dry traces, I see salt that flowers Along the sandy beach, My horse sticks his foot; Sun and limpid sky and the amazing landscape, and the pond, are striking my heart at the swinging pace of my horse; While wading through the ford, In the reflections that flash back, I feel the reflects of the bitter water which strikes my lips. And I see with far, like an island that emerges and stretches, blackening above the salicornes, the junipers of Radeliero.

Drawing aside the sticky wheather, suddenly, a gust of wind blows, the wind of the sea gives us again energy and life. The great bird that flies upon us, while diving with great blows of wing, knows enough the man and the animal that walk through the vastness; It saw us much, across the waste lands, gatherers  of cattles, haunting the low feverish country and riding close of quagmires; It saw us a lot, with our inclined head, and so tired after working, going back to inhabited places, carrying our melancholy. But now, light is shining, reflection whirls and gathers, water runs, extends, and, asleep, spreads: young gushing of the mirage, moving source of the mystery, As long as I'm thirsty, let me drink and bathe in your water. 


 While, above the arid land, spreads the heat wave, when radiation takes a fantomatic form, and that mirage dances on the nudity of the brackish plain, above lakes and salicornes,  when cattles gather in the plain and sleep, above muddy fords and sandy dunes, flowers of sparkle are more beautiful than dreams. 


La vièio
La vièio danso.....
(Dicho camarguenco dóu mirage)

Sus ti plajo sóuverto, ount soun li diéu marin
Qu'au soulèu de miejour caufavon si car bruno,
Ount soun lis erso e li sereno au clar de luno
E li gardaire eiguèstre encambant li dóufin?
Di bèu cors nivoulous fusant dins ti pinedo,
Ount es la farandoulo e lou brande pagan,
Terro que, pèr ti mort, coume i clars Aliscamp,
Fas, au cor di sablas, mounta li flour d'aledo,
Terro caudo, chalado i poutoun de la mar,
Tu que, dins tout toun nus, coume Vènus siés bello
E que, pèr li sansouiro eigassouso e rebello
Acampes ti manado au rounfle dóu vènt-larg?
Di vièi Diéu, se li siècle an escafa la caro,
Assolo-te, qu'enchau? La mar canto e lusis
E davans tu, de-longo, au souleiant que ris
Dins lou tramble de l'èr, la Vièio danso encaro.
La Vièio! Esperit viéu di grand parage nòu,
Alen, flamado bluio, eigage que davalo
A l'ouro de miejour, coumpagno di cavalo,
Amo de la salino e di païs de biòu.
De lus assadoulado i blouso font de l'aire,
Es elo que, radant sus li salanc d'estiéu,
Dins si rebat de lono e soun clarun de niéu
Amago la feruno e lis aucèu voulaire;
Maire douço, de-fes, sus li nis escoundu,
Elo couvo lis iòu di becaru sóuvage
E, feroujo, tant-lèu, dóu fiò de si mirage,
Embouio li camin dóu cavalié perdu.
Fantaume clarejant sus la mar blanquinello,
Dono dis espandido vasto e dis estang,
Elo, quand lou printèms coungreio li gabian,
Reviéudo li gacholo emé li cabridello.
Es elo qu'enlusis li mountiho e li grau,
Elo endor au soulèu li pastre sus si jargo,
Enchusclo de poutoun li gardian de Camargo
E vuejo de pantai i ràfi de la Crau.
Sus toun mamèu sóuvage abéurant ti nourrido,
Laisso dansa la Vièio à la rajo dóu tèms;
De-longo apararello, es elo que mantèn,
Païs, toun amo auroujo, arderouso e ravido;
Laisso-la, sus ti gourg, boufant li soufle viéu,
Au cant sourd de sis èrso assoupi ta marino,
Laisso-la, mestrejant ti chivau de bouvino,
Abriva ti gardian sus li camin de Diéu.

The Old One
The Old One dances.....
(Saying in Camargue that indicates the mirage)

On your deserted beaches, where are the marine gods, Who, under the sun of midday heated their brown flesh, Where are waves and sirens in the moonlight And watery herdsmen riding dolphins?

Of gorgeous cloudy bodies fleeing in pine forests, Where are the farandole and the pagan round, Country, that, for your deaths, as in the clear Alyscamps, make, in the heart of sandy lands blossom asphodels, hot earth, in ecstasy with kisses of the sea, You that, fully naked, like Venus, are beautiful, And who, through your moors of wet rebel marshes, collect your wild herds with the song of the great wind? Yet centuries have veiled the face of the old gods, what matters? Sea sings and shines And, in front of you, unceasingly, when midday laughs, In the shiver of air, the Old One still dances. The Old One! Living spirit of new wide spaces, Blow, blue blaze, downpour that descends At the hour of midday, companion of the mares, Soul of salted plains and pastures for wild bulls. Mouthful with light at the limpid sources of air, She's the One who, planing on the grounds of summer, In its reflections of pond and its whiteness of clouds, wraps to hid them wild beasts and birds of the air; Sweet Mother, sometimes, on hidden nests She broods the eggs of wild flamingos. And, suddenly savage, due to the fire of her mirages, muddles the paths of the lost horserider. Luminous phantom on the bleaching sea, Lady of the solitary extents and ponds, She, when spring hatches seagulls, awakes the tamarix and the cabridelles. It's Her who makes shine dunes and gulfs, and She deadens in the sunshine shepherds above their coat, inebriates with kisses horseriders of Camargue And pours dreams to the ploughmen of the Crau. On Her wild breast that nourishes your ranges, Let dance the Old One with the clearness of time; Always protective, She's the One who maintains, oh my country! your savage and burning and ecstatic soul. Let She, on your gulfs, blowing Her sharp breaths, with the deaf song of Her waves to alleviate your sea, Let She, controlling your bull-shepherding horses, bring your horsemen on the pathways of God!


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