Among the Trobairitz

Lady Maria,

+++++++++++ivalue and valiance,
joy and beauty and intelligence,
+++++ihonor, worth, and hospitality,
noble speech and pleasing company,
fine, sweet face and merry countenance,
+++++igentle gaze and loving glance—
all these, in you, and not the trickster’s art,
they draw me toward you with an honest heart.

I pray you, if it please you, fine amours
+++++iand jouissance and sweet humility
may bring the solace I’ve been longing for,
+++++iand grant me, lovely lady, if it please
you, the gift from which I’d draw all hope and happiness:
+++++iin you lie all my love and lust and liking,
through you I drink up all I taste of gladness,
+++++iand for you I’ve spent many hours sighing.

+++++iAnd since your valiance and beauty elevate
you over other ladies—none surpasses you—
I pray you, if it please you, in song I dedicate
+++++ito you:
+++++++++++iDon’t love a wooer who’s untrue!

Lovely lady, whom worth and joy exalt,
+++++iand noble speech, to you I send my song,
+++++++++++ifor gaiety and gladness are in you,
and all good gifts a man might choose among.

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Na Maria, pretz e fina valors,
e.l joi e.l sen e la fina beutatz,
e l’aculhir e.l pretz e las onors,
e.l gent parlar e l’avinen solatz,
e la dous car’ e la gaja cuendansa,
e.l dous esgart e l’amoros semblan
que son en vos, don non avetz engansa,
me fan traire vas vos ses cor truan.

Per que vos prec, si.us platz que fin’ amors
e gausiment e dous umilitatz
me posca far ab vos tan de socors,
que mi donetz, bella domna, si.us platz,
so don plus ai d’aver joi e ‘speransa;
car en vos ai mon cor e mon talan,
e per vos ai tot so qu’ai d’alegransa
e per vos vauc mantas vetz sospiran.

E car beutatz e valor vos enansa
sobra totas, qu’un no.us es denan,
vos prec, si.us platz, per so que.us es onransa,
que non ametz entendidor truan.

Bella domna, cui pretz e joi enansa
e gen parlar, a vos mas coblas man,
car en vos es gajess’ e alegranssa,
e tot lo ben qu’om en domna deman.

Translator’s Note

I am interested in the original song less for its literary merit than for the fact that it composed by a trobairitz for a lady—in other words, from one woman to another. Although Bieiris’ original, and also my translation, may seem at first glance to be nothing more than a catalogue of attractive personality traits, these were the attributes which the troubadours and trobairitz deemed essential to the art of fin’amors, or perfect love (a phrase I’ve rendered, in modern franglais, as “fine amours”).

Are these verses a love song? Perhaps. Many scholars tend to view the poetry of the troubadours and the trobairitz as a literary means toward increasing the writer’s social and economic prestige, rather than as “authentic” expressions of romantic or erotic feeling. But I’m inclined to think—though this may be merely a personal hope—that this particular song was sincere.

I’ve translated the Old Occitan gausiment not as “rejoicing” or “enjoyment” but as a loan-word from French, “jouissance,” which corresponds more exactly to the religious—and sexual—ecstatic connotations of the original. In the case of the Occitan om, which can mean either “one” (like the Modern French on) or “man” (like the Modern French homme), I have opted for the latter translation because I would like to draw your attention to the tension between, on the one hand, the traditional masculinity of language, and, on the other, the challenge which lesbian/women’s poetry poses to that tradition.

Editions of the original may be found in Meg Bogin’s anthology The Women Troubadours (1988), together with Bogin’s facing-page literal translation, and in Oskar Schultz-Gora’s Die Provenzalischen Dichterinnen: Biographien und Texte (1975). Bogin lists the poem’s manuscript source as Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale Fr. 15211.

It’s difficult to write about translation when so much has already been said. I find myself resorting to adages and stock phrases: the notorious traduttore traditore, the one-liner about poetry mis-attributed to Robert Frost, or the idealistic (and exaggerated) claim that every human act, from breathing in air to placing one foot in front of the other, is an act of translation. And this is what drives me to translate in the first place: there is nothing new to be said under the sun. Why write when you can cite? Why compose when you can translate?

I would like to think that I follow Gayatri Spivak in pursuing an “intimate reading,” a “surrender to the text” that is “more erotic than ethical” and in which the self “loses its boundaries” and comes into close contact with something uncanny, something else both self and Other. If the Author is dead, then the translator may be compared to a medium channeling her spirit. (Sometimes, when I’m working late into the night, I take this comparison literally.) When translation becomes simply the breaking and re-making of a text in my own idiom, I know it is time to move on.

Samantha Pious is a Ph.D. student in Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. Some of her translations have appeared in Lunch Ticket’s Amuse-BoucheDoublespeak, ConstructionGertrude, and Rowboat.

Bieiris de Romans was a trobairitz (a woman troubadour) who composed at least one lyric in Old Occitan, presumably during the first half of the thirteenth century in the south of France. About her life or identity, nothing else is known.