Monday, February 15, 2016

Troubadours, ancient and modern

    Thanks to Speranza* for the excellent overview and details pertaining to troubadours and others.  My probably-outdated information came from the early 1800s and translated in 1860 by by G.J. Adler -- hardly a scholarly approach to the matter, but back when I read it I had no access to large libraries and the buying of books was a chancy and time-consuming matter.  I was engaged back then if I recall correctly in one of my many (and soon abandoned) exercises to increase my knowledge of the language I was writing poetry in.  This book, The History of Provencal Poetry wasn't that, but it looked interesting, was available to me, and if one lived back then in a "barbarous or remote" area, one took what one could get.   Thanks to the barbarous area in which I still live are not quite so remote.  Of course if one had no access to a major library that is still somewhat limiting, but enormously more books are available today.
    A point I had in mind but failed to make is implied on the first page of Fouriel's book:  "I shall therefore divide the history of Provencal literature into two great epochs, of which the one extends from the second half of the eighth century to the year 1080, and the other from 1080 to 1350.
    "Of these two epochs the first is, as we can easily presume, by far the most obscure, the one from which the smallest number of monuments are left us, and concerning which history furnishes us the scantiest information.  It still however offers us many curious and interesting facts -- facts, by which the literature of the South is linked, on the one hand to the culture of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and on the other to the glorious epochs of he Middle Age.
    "The fundamental fact, to be examined in this first epoch of Provencal literature, is the origin and formation of the idiom which was destined to become its organ.  The creation of every language presents to us certain obscure and mysterious phrases which will not admit of an absolute explanation.  But this being granted, there is perhaps no idiom in the world which furnishes us so many data for the construction of its history, as does the ancient Provencal; and from this circumstance alone, it is entitled to a particular attention.  A careful and critical examination of it enables us to distinguish the various ingredients, which have successively entered into its composition, and the different languages to which these ingredients respectively belong.  In the Latin substratum, which constitutes its basis, we find still enough of Greek to attest the long residence of a Grecian population in the countries in which it originated.  We also discover considerable traces of the three most ancient languages of Gaul, all of which are still alive in barbarous or remote countries, which have served them as places of refuge.  One of these languages is spoken in France by the inhabitants of lower Brittany, and in England by the Welsh; the other in the mountains of Scotland, and in the interior of Ireland; the last in the Pyrenees by the Basques."

    In English literature we find critics referring to certain poets, Shakespeare and Milton for example, as being "immortal," and various poets (Milton, not Shakespeare if I recall correctly) seeking immortality through their their poetry.  In looking at the panorama Fouriel has provided, what chance does the English we speak let alone poets writing today have of being understood even a thousand years from now?  Further, as Speranza tells us, "Troubadours performed their own songs. Jongleurs (performers) and cantaires (singers) also performed troubadours' songs."  We know the names (more names that I recalled from reading Fouriel) of many Troubadours, but do we remember the names of as many Jongleurs and cantaires?  And if we do surely we remember nothing of what made them significant in their day, the sound of their voices and their instruments as they performed the music of the troubadours.
    Today there are many more people benefiting from modern-day troubadours, most of which haven't the ability to "perform" their own writings.  Psychiatrists forced Anne Sexton to perform her poetry at $1,000 a performance in order to pay them.  Ted Hughes used Sylvia Plath's writings to obtain money enough to buy a vacation home for his new wife and family.  But even today publishers and book sellers are benefiting from the writings of Sexton and Plath far more than they themselves did.  Perhaps the greed of these people will cause the poetry of Plath and Sexton to approach more closely to immortality than the writings of better poets who never achieved the celebrity of a madness culminating in a romantic suicide providing a plethora of critical remoras who benefited and still benefit from their debris.  Surely the practical minded publishers and book sellers are wiser in choosing the money to be made from poor or dead poets than the poets themselves who have given their lives for nothing that has a chance of living more than a few centuries.  Surely the pessimistic Koholeth was far ahead of his time -- or have we always been like this?


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