In the 1990’s I acquired a reading knowledge of medieval Occitan (once spoken in a third of what is now France) and collaborated with two colleagues (Matilda Bruckner and Laurie Shepard) on an edition-translation of Songs of the Women Troubadours (Garland Press, 1995). For a paperback version published 5 years later, W.S. Merwin, an ardent troubadour fan, wrote a brief preface.
Fragment of a Salutation, Tibors de Sarenon
Fair, sweet friend, I can truly tell you
I have never been without desire
since I met you and took you as true lover,
nor has it happened that I lacked the wish,
my fair, sweet friend, to see you often,
nor has the season come when I repented,
nor has it happened, if you went off angry,
that I knew joy until you had returned,
Woman Troubadour, Sarah White
The more I sing… -Lady Castelloza
The more I sing,
the worse it goes for me in love.
My Friend carried a glove
beside his skin, a charm—
silk, feminine, a Lady’s.
I stole it. He said
if you’ll sing your song.”
Joy spilled into a canzone,
how I suffered,
all I’d do to gain
a small reward. God!
May it come soon!
He took it in,
taught the song
to his Juggler, then
sent him off
to one of those estates
whose Lord is always gone,
hunting, whoring, warring,
and the Juggler rattled the gate.
“Come in. Come to my room,”
the Lady called, cooed,
and handed him a lute.
The Juggler stood in the Luster
of the Lady’s mirror. A man may sing
a woman’s song by switching
here and there an end-word: Oh!
for Ah! And vice versa.
The Lady paled,
Urgently, she sent
for the Juggler’s employer—
my Friend—who came
and garnered the reward.
Etcetera. The worse it goes
for me in love, the more I sing.
My name is Alamanda,
I won’t grow old. In my whole
life, I’ll compose three
perfect songs and lose them all.
I’ll shrink into a miniature
red swoop, my gown and hood,
My pen, a centimeter.
My eye, a dot. Period.
from Cleopatra Haunts the Hudson (Spuyten Duyvil, 2007)
© 2018 Sarah White
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