Spotlight: Against the Troubadours

[translated poetry]

Against the Troubadours

Casting off the fashions of those finders who
refined their finery too far in passion’s fire,
and reining in my own too-fond desire,
I’ll tell the truth of what I’ve found in you.
My words are worthless, not to be believed,
to those who haven’t seen you face to face;
and those who see, but cannot see a trace
of what’s within, their own souls will be grieved.

The sinner’s not so blind he can’t perceive
your figure’s grace, your form’s gentility;
he doesn’t have the wise man’s sensitivity:
the colors, yes, he sees—but could he ever feel?
All your body has, the coarse man knoweth well,
except the parts in which your spirit shares:
he knows your hips, your waist, your skin, your hair—
but of your movements, what has he to tell?

We all are coarse in trying to explain
that which loveliness and honesty deserve;
and gentle youths, most learned, long to serve,
but, starving, they endure a lover’s pain.
No other sleights-of-mind could shine as bright,
commanding every subtle clerkly feat,
for idleness, in you, lies fast asleep.
God wills you not a virgin but a wife.

For you alone, the good stuff was enough,
which God’s laid by to make illustrious ladies:
of all those women, lovely though they may be,
only you, Teresa, taste of perfect love;
you have, within you, such intelligence
there’s nothing lacking in your memory or mind;
your beauty and your brilliance make men blind;
your wisdom gives the wise their sustenance.

The law of Venice doesn’t have the frame
with which your understanding orders subtleties,
nor could that city ever hold the keys
to how your body moves with neither guilt nor blame.
Such great delight belongs to every learned man
who occupies himself with learning all you teach
base bodily desires cannot reach
his will—and it’s as though his death’s at hand.

Lily in thorns, my art won’t reach so far
to forge a glorious, unseen crown for you;
for nothing should be shown to public view
where such great miracles and marvels are.



Leixant apart l. estil dels trobadors
qui per escalt trepassen veritat,
e sostrahènt mon voler afectat,
perqué no .m trob, diré, .l que trobe en vos.
Tot mon parlar als que no .us hauran vista
res no hi valdrá, car fé no hi donarán;
é los vehènts qui dins vos no veurán,
en créure mi, llur arma será trista.

L. ull dels hom pech no há tant fosca vista
que vostre cos no jutje per gentil;
no .l coneix tal com lo qui es suptil,
hoc la color mes no sab de la lista;
quant est del cos menys de participar
de l. esperit coneix be lo grosser,
vostre color y .l tall pot be saber
mes ja del gest no porá ben parlar.

Tots som grossers en poder explicar
ço que mereix un bell cos e honest,
jovens getils, ben sabènts, l. han request
e famejants los convench endurar.
Lo votre seny fa çó qu. altre no basta
que sab regir la molta suptilesa;
en fèr tot be s. adorm en vos peresa,
casta ne sòu perque Dèu ne vol casta.

Sols pera vos basta la bona pasta
que Dèu retent per fer singulars dones,
fetes n. ha assats mòlt sabies e bones
mes complimènt dona Teresa .l tasta,
havent en sí tant gran conexement
que res no .l fall que tota no .s conega,
al hom devot sa bellesa encega.
past d’entenents es son enteniment,

Venecians no há en lo regimènt
tan pascefichs com vostre seny regeix
subtilitats que .l entendrens no deix
e del cos bells sens culpa .l movimènt;
tant gran delit tot hom entenènt há
e ocupat se troba en vos entendre,
que lo desig del cos no pot estendre
á leig voler, ans con á mort está.

Lir entre carts, lo meu poder no fá
tant que .us poguès fèr corona nuisible,
merícula vos, car la qui es visible
no .s déu posar llá hon miracle está.

Translator’s Note:

Ausias March’s “Against the Troubadours” is not primarily a love poem but a literary one. The blazon of a woman’s bodily characteristics was a genre of its own, through which the (male) writer could show off his own mastery of rhetoric and poetics for the benefit of (male) readers. If there was a real Teresa, it is a safe bet that this poem was not written for her. I’ve translated it out of literary love for its funny puns.

Medieval vernacular Romance languages are full of false cognates, words whose wealth of interconnected connotations does not translate easily into modern English. It would be easy to translate Ausias March’s first verse as “Leaving aside the style of the troubadours”—but such a rendering would miss the wordplay of trobador as a composer or “finder” of songs, who, troubled (torb) by his overly “fond” desire, wants to write about the beauty he has “found” (trobe) in his lady-love. Significantly, the etymology of the poet or songwriter as a finder makes its own statement against any notion of “originality”—good lines are not created, but stumbled upon.

Some other false cognates include estil, which denotes not just any “style” but a high style full of rhetorical, clerkly embellishments; joves gentils, whose “youth” and “gentility” presuppose that they are courtly, well-born aristocrats; seny, which can mean “intellect” and “common sense” at once; and, of course, miracle, which, for modern readers, has lost most of its psychic force. There is also a joke about the city-state of Venice, whose power was reaching its height during March’s lifetime. In my translation, I’ve tried to give some impression of that fifteenth-century context.

Translator: Samantha Pious is a graduate student in Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. Some of her translations have appeared in Construction, Gertrude, Rowboat, and Doublespeak.

Author: Ausias March (1397-1459) was a poet of the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance. He is known today as the first poet to write entirely in Catalan (instead of Latin or Occitan). A minor Valencian nobleman, he fought in the wars in Sicily, Naples, and North Africa during the early 1420s, after which he retired from military life and spent his later years as a squire on his own estate.