Occitan poetry  980-2006

by Joan-Frederic Brun


Medieval poetry: the fair kingdom of love

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 Provenal miracle
XX th century (1920-1965): the anguish of no future
XX th century (1965-1981): "un pas que vl viure" (a coutry 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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Many websites are devoted to medieval Occitan literature. This unexpected blossoming at the beginning of the Middle ages has raised much interest all over the world, except of course in France where it is only a matter of derision.

This is the literature of "troubadours". For  French-minded people a troubadour is nothing but a blatant wandering singer with an old guitar singing boring songs with poor music and poor texts... For all the scholars all over the world except here, it is obvious that troubadours were refined poets at the exquisite top of the culture of their time, composing also wonderful original musics. 

Even more, a very unusual event of this period of history is that several troubadours were women (trobairitz), most of them the wives, daughters, and sisters of Occitania's greatest nobles, but some also from obscure origins or belonging to the bourgeoisie. It is the honor of occitan culture before its historical breakdown that Occitan women of 800 years ago were so highly regarded and honestly participant. 

My master and friend Ren Nelli has extensively studied the manner troubadours developped gradually the concept of courtly love. Courtly love was a vogue at the time that was characterized by a romantic devotion to a sexually unattainable woman, usually another man's wife. In some circles, the woman was abstracted to an ideal and held to be the Virgin Mary. This poetry feels completely modern. In it, women play the central role, express sexual feelings, ponder their hopes and their destinies. The only country that does not want to recognize its seminal importance in the history of civilization is, surprisingly, France that has continuously  aimed at suppressing totally Occitania and its culture.

It is thus difficult for an Occitan to objectively talk about the literature of this country at the middle age. We are so used to encounter the sarcastic smile of the French that we avoid to speak too enthusiastically of this period, even if, in the secret of our heart, we passionately love it. To have an objective look at it, it is interesting to read foreign scholars, who have not been influenced by the French usual belief that all this simply does not exist, or should not exist.

There are some wonderful websites devoted to the troubadours and medieval Occitan poetry. RIALTO provides online reference editions of more and more Occitan texts (without translation) while Pietro Malcovati's web page contains almost all the troubadour corpus with (recently added) English translation of a lot of texts. There are also several others in other languages, so that this area of our literature that used to be very difficult to find is nowadays largely accessible on the web.

Therefore, despite my immoderate love for the great classics of my literature, I will not put here so many troubadour texts, focusing more on more modern poetry which is almost unknown outside of Occitania.

I just take the opportunity of this web page to give several short extracts that I enjoy to read at poetry readings, in order to show that troubadours are not old at all. They are great poets able to provide an intense emotion to a reader of any epoch.


A few love poems of troubadours

Bernat de Ventadorn

Lo tems vai e ven e vire
Per jorns, per mes e per ans,
Et eu, las no.n sai que dire,
C'ades es us mos talans.
Ades es us e no.s muda,
C'una.n volh e.n ai volguda,
Don anc non aic jauzimen.


Ben es mortz qui d'amor no sen
Al cor calque dousa sabor!
E que val viure ses amor
Mas per enoi far a la gen
Ja Domnedeus no.m azir tan
Qu'eu ja pois viva jorn ni mes
Pois que d'enoi serai mespres
Ni d'amor non aurai talan .


Bernat de Ventadorn

Time runs and goes away and turns, for days, months, and years And me, alas, the only thing that I can say is that I just have only one hunger. This hunger is unique and unchanging. She is the only that I want and have ever wanted, while I never got from her any joy.

Dead is he, really, who in his heart no longer feels any exquisite taste of love! And which value could have therefore a life devoid of love, just bothering other people? May the Lord not hate me so much that He would let me live one day or one month invaded by boredom and no longer feeling any desire of love!

Jaufre Rudel 

("quan lo rius de la fontana")

De dezir mos cor no fina
Vas selha ren qu'ieu pus am;
E cre que volers m'enguana
Si cobezeza la'm tol;
Que pus es ponhens qu'espina
La dolor que ab joi sana;
Don ja non vuelh qu'om m'en planha.



Totz trassalh e bran et fremis
Per s'Amor, durmen o velhan.
Tal paor ai qu'ieu mesfalhis
No m'aus pessar cum la deman,
Mas servir l'ai dos ans o tres,
E pueys ben leu sabran lo ver.



Ni muer ni viu ni no guaris,
Ni mal nom sent e si l'ai gran,
Quar de s'Amor no suy devis,
Non sai si ja l'aurai ni quan,
Qu'en lieys es tota la merces
Quem pot sorzer o decazer.




Bel m'es quant ilh m'enfolhetis
Em fai badar en vau muzan!
De leis m'es bel si m'escarnis
Om gaba dereir'o denan,
Qu'apres lo mal me venra bes
Be leu, s'a lieys ven a plazer.



Jaufre Rudel 

("quan lo rius de la fontana")

The desire of my heart is endless and only devoted to her, beloved among all others. And my will, I guess, abuses me, if lust  deprives me of her. For it's keener            than a thorn, this pain that heals with joy, and for which I don't want to be pitied.



Im all quivering shaking and shuddering from the love I feel for her, either when I sleep or when I stay up. Such is my fear of dying from this love that I cant envision how to speak to her. I will remain her servant two or three years perhaps, before letting her know my feeling.


Neither dying nor living nor healing, I dont feel any pain of my sickness, despite its tremendous intensity. Im unable to scrutinize the mystery of her love, I dont know whether she will agree to my passion, and even less when that could occur. For in her lies the entire Mercy that can lead me to enhance or to decay.


And I find magnificent that she panics me to this point, leaves me with a gaping mouth and bewildered! I enjoy when she scorns me, makes fun of me in my absence or even in front of me. For after the evil will come the good. And that can be soon, if such is her pleasure.


Rambertino Buvalelli

Eu sai la flor plus bella d'autra flor
E plus plazen, als ditz dels conoissens,
En cui es mais pretz e valors e sens,
E deu per dreich portar maior lauzor
C'autra del mon, que hom saubes eslire,
Car noil faill res de ben, c'om puosca dire;
Qu'en lieis es sens, honors e cortesia,
Gens acuillirs ab tant bella paria,
C'om no la ve que non sia envejos
Del sieu ric pretz poiat sobrels plus pros.


Rambertino Buvalelli

I know the flower, more beautiful  than any other flower, and more pleasant for those that have the knowledge,  in whom are located at the highest degree price, value and intelligence, and who  therefore deserves receiving the highest praises, more than any other in the world that one could distinguish for her merit. For one cannot mention any virtue that is lacking to her. In her are intelligence, distinction and courtesy, and wonderful welcome. And so sublime is her beauty that one cannot see it without envying her noble and rich quality raised above the most illustrious heroes.


Bernat de Ventadorn

Aquest' amors me fer tan gen
Al cor d'una dousa sabor:
Cen vetz mor lo jorn de dolor
E reviu de joi autras cen.
Ben es mos mals de bel semblan,
Que mais val mos mals qu'autre bes!
E pois mos mals aitan bos m'es,
Bos er lo bes apres l'afan.

Cant eu la vei, be m'es parven
Als olhs, al vis, a la color,
Car aissi tremble de paor
Com fa la folha contra.l ven.
Non ai de sen per un efan,
Aissi sui d'amor entrepres!
E d'ome qu'es aissi conques,
Pot domn' aver almorna gran.

Bernat de Ventadorn

This love hits me so deliciously in the heart with its soft taste that  hundred of times a day I die from my  pain and hundred other times again I relive of joy. I suffer from a sickness that I find so wonderful that I prefer this evil to any other good! And since my sickness is  so delicious for me, how much more  will be good the happiness that will come after it!

When I see her, it really seems to me that her eyes, her face, her colour, that I'm quivering of  fear as does the leaf against the wind. I have less mind than a kid, for I'm so much caught by love! And of a man who is so conquered, a lady can really have a great pity!   

Pire Vidal 

("Car'amiga dols'e franca")

Quar vos etz arbres e branca
On fruitz de gaug s'asazona:
Pero qui a vos s'adona
No tem folzer ni lavanca.
Quar vostr'amors segurana
Gueris e.m reven e.m sana,
E.m toll enuei e pezansa
Ab gaug de fin'alegransa.

Qu'ab color vermelh'e blanca
Fina beutatz vos faissona
Ad ops de portar corona
Sus en l'emperial banca.
E quar es dols' et humana,
Teno.us tuit per sobeirana
De joi e de benestansa




Pire Vidal 

("Car'amiga dols'e franca")


Because you're tree and branch, where the fruit of bliss finds its  season. However who gives himself to you can no longer fear  thunderlight nor rain.  Since your love that is total certitude heals me and rebuilds me and gives me life, removing any annoy and heaviness because of  bliss and fine happiness.

For with a red and white colour your rare beauty turns you up so wonderfully that you would merit to have a crown and to sit on the imperial throne. Everybody considers you as ther sovereign of joy and pleasantness


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