Twenty-six items from Special Collections (p)

Exhibit 'P': Occitan. (William VII, Count of Poitiers, IX Duke of Aquitaine, ['Farai un vers de dreyt nien'], circa 1105 CE)

Bibliography: Four books: • Lyrics of the Troubadours and Trouvères: An Anthology and a History, translations and introductions by Frederick Goldin (Peter Smith, 1983; originally published 1973) • Proensa: An Anthology of Troubadour Poetry, selected and translated by Paul Blackburn (University of California Press, 1978) • Poems of William of Poitou, translated by Thomas G. Bergin (Yale, 1955) • Selected Translations, W.D. Snodgrass (BOA Editions, 1998).

Comment: The image above is from yet a fifth document: William VII, Count of Poitiers, ed./trans. Gerald A. Bond (Garland, 1982). This latter is the best book I know on the subject. Among other perks, you get a hundred pages of intro, disabusing you of almost every assumption you're likely to have about the author of the poem below (he was not a wandering vagabond, he was not singing for his supper). You also get a gallery of historical documents, plus pictures, plus (of course) hyper-literal translations with full textual apparatus. In a word, the works. I've not included the Bond translation here though, because it's not too different from the Goldin, first item below. And the Goldin seems a little better to me.
   As for the other translations, they are all attempts to preserve the original's rhyme power without losing the sprezzatura. Every time I read this sort of thing, I want it to function. I want it, so badly, to function. And yet . . . . 

["Farai un vers de dreyt nien"]    [trans. Frederick Goldin]

I will make a vers of exactly nothing:
there'll be nothing in it about me or anyone else,
nothing about love or youth
or anything else.
It came to me before, while I was sleeping
on my horse.

I do not know the hour of my birth.
I am not cheerful or morose,
I am no stranger here and do not belong in these parts,
and I can't help being this way;
I was turned into this, one night, by some fairy
high on a peak.

I don't know when I sleep
or wake, if someone doesn't tell me.
My heart is almost broken
from the grief in it,
and I swear by Saint Martial, to me the whole thing
isn't worth a mouse.

I am sick and shiver at death
and don't know it except when I'm told.
I will look for the doctor I have in mind,
I don't know who he is.
He's a good doctor if he can make me well,
but not if I get worse.

I have my little friend, I don't know who she is,
because I've never seen her, so help me God;
she's done nothing to make me feel good, or bad,
and I don't care,
because there's never been a Frenchman or a Norman yet
inside my house.

I have never seen her and love her a lot,
she has never yet done right by me, or wrong.
When I do not see her, I enjoy myself.
And I don't care a cock,
because I know a nicer one, better looking,
and worth more.

I have made this vers, I don't know what it's about;
and I shall send it to someone
who will send it for me with someone else
to someone in Anjou there;
let him send me from his little box the key
to what we have here.

APPENDIX 1 :: the original

Farai un vers de dreyt nien:
non er de mi ni d'autra gen,
non er d'amor ni di joven
ni de ren au,
qu'enans fo trobatz en durmen
sobre chevau.

No sai en qual hora·m fuy natz:
no suy alegres ni iratz,
no suy estrayns ni sui privatz,
ni no·n puesc au,
qu'enaissi fuy de nueitz fadatz,
sobr' un pueg au.

No sai quora·m fuy endurmitz
no quora·m velh, s'om no m'o ditz.
Per pauc no me's lo cor partitz
d'un dol corau;
e no m'o pretz una sporitz,
per San Marsau!

Malautz suy e tremi murir,
e ren no sai mas quan n'aug dir;
metge querrai al mieu albir,
e non sai tau;
bos metges es qui·m pot guerir,
mas non, si amau.

M'amigu' ai ieu, no sai qui s'es,
qu'anc non la vi, si m'ajut fes;
ni·m fes que·m plassa ni que·m pes,
ni no m'en cau,
qu'anc non ac Norman ni Frances
dins mon ostau.

Anc non la vi et am la fort,
anc no n'aic dreyt ni no·m fes tort;
quan non la vey, be m'en deport,
no·m pretz un jau
qu'ie·n sai gensor et bellazor,
e que mais vau.

Fag ai lo vers, no say de cuy;
e trametrai lo a selhuy
que lo·m trametra per autruy
lay vers Anjau,
que·m tramezes del sieu estuy
la contraclau.

APPENDIX 2 :: three other translations

Farai un vers de dreyt nien    [trans. Paul Blackburn]

I shall make a vers about
downright nothing, not
about myself or youth or love
        or anyone.
      I wrote it horseback dead asleep
    while riding in the sun.

I was born—don't know the hour,
not blood nor choler has the power.
My humour's neither sweet nor sour;
        not worth a drop
since the night they sorcered me
        on a mountaintop.

Don't know if I'm awake or sleep
if no one comes to fill me in.
My heart is already cleft with pain
        (it rather it were partial).
I wouldn't give you a mouse for it
     by old Saint Martial.

I guess I'm sick enough to die,
know only what they tell me. I'll
ask the doc for what I want, I
        don't know what it can be.
I'll recommend his doctoring if
     ever he can heal me, but
if I sicken and get worse, well
        maybe not, maybe not.

I have a friend, I don't know who
for I have never seen her. So
she treats me neither well nor ill,
     I do not say I blame her.
But this argument is also nil, it
     is not worth a curse
since I've never had a Norman or
     a Frenchman in the house.

Never saw her and I love her
very much. It doesn't matter if
she treats me straight or not, for I
     do very well without her,
and besides, I know another who is
     prettier and such.
Why, she is not worth a rooster, and
     this other one is rich!

Well. I've made the vers already, though
     I do not know of whom. And I shall
     send it to a friend of mine who's
               sitting in a room.
He will hand it to another near Anjou,
        a gravel pit, who may
send me back from out his box, someday,
                  the key to it.
        Box or vers, the key to it.

I'll Make Some Verses Just for Fun    [trans. Thomas G. Bergin]
Farai un vers de dreyt nien

I'll make some verses just for fun,
Not about me nor any one,
Nor deeds that noble knights have done,
     Nor love's ado—
I made them riding in the sun
     (My horse helped, too.)

When I was born I cannot say;
I am not sad, I am not gay,
I am not stiff nor dégagé;
     What can I do?
Long since enchanted by a fay
     Star-touched I grew.

Dreaming for living I mistake
Unless I'm told when I'm awake.
My heart is sad and nigh to break
     With bitter rue—
And I don't care three crumbs of cake,
     Or even two.

So ill I am that death I fear;
I nothing know but what I hear;
I hope there is a doctor here,
     No matter who,
If he can cure me I'll pay dear.
     If not, he's through.

I have a lady, who or where
I cannot tell you, but I swear
She treats me neither ill nor fair
     But I'm not blue—
Just as the Normans stay up there
     Out of Poitou.

I have not seen, yet I adore
This distant love; she sets no store
By what I think and furthermore
     (’Tis sad but true)
Others there are, some three or four,
     I'm faithful to.

I've made this verse; if you'll allow
I think I'll send it off right now
To one who'll pass it on somehow
     Up in Anjou
He'd tell me what it means, I vow,
     If he but knew.

The Nothing Song    [trans. W.D. Snodgrass]

Sheer nothing's all I'm singing of:
Not me and no one else, of course;
There's not one word of youth and love
   Nor anything;
I thought this up, once, on my horse
   While slumbering.

I don't know my own sign at birth;
I'm neither native here nor strange;
I don't feel gloom, I don't feel mirth.
   Don't blame me, though—
One night a fairy worked this change
   That's made me so.

I don't know if I sleep or wake
Unless somebody's told me that.
This heart of mine is sure to break
   For grief and care,
Yet the whole thing's not worth on sprat
   To me, I swear.

I'm sick and shivering with death-fright
Though all I know is what I've heard.
I'll seek the doctor who seems right—
   Who is he, though?
He's a great doctor if I'm cured;
   If worse, not so.

My little friend (I don't know who
Since she's a girl I've never seen)
Gives me no grief or joy—that's true,
   Which suits me fine;
No French—or Norman's come between
   Housewalls of mine.

Though I've not seen her, my love's strong;
Not seeing her, I'm not undone;
She never did me right or wrong
   And who cares, for
I know a nicer, fairer one
   Worth plenty more.

As for her homeland, I don't know
Whether she's from the hills or plain;
I don't dare claim she's wronged me so
   I can't help grieve;
Yet staying here is such a pain
   I'm going to leave.