At the end of the first full week of my project, I offer a working edition of one of Douce 308’s unique songs in the grand chant section. Because it’s unique, I’m not able to source for this song a melody that verifiably once belonged to it, not least because there doesn’t seem to be another song in the repertory that replicates its particular versification structure. This anonymous song is no.2 in the chansonnier section of Douce 308 (see the manuscript image here; it’s actually the third song because no.1 is a mash-up of two separate songs by Blondel and Adam de la Halle, but that’s another story). By the way, I know the final word is ‘voloir’ in the MS, but I’ve emended it for reasons of sense; if you disagree, do email me! It’s taken me a bit of time to get used to the eastern features of the orthography (-eir for -er; -eit for -é; ‘muez’ for ‘miex’!). I must say, too, that I’ve benefited from being able to ask my colleague Helen Swift about bits of the translation I found syntactically difficult.
A working translation might go something like this:
I cannot bring myself to sing about the sweet time of summer that I see arriving and that re-greens its [summer’s] meadows, because I love from a whole, refined heart, without deception, a lady who makes me sorrowful.
To comfort my grieving and to better hide [it], I behave joyfully [in order] to give less joy to those who wish to gossip about love and to deceive. I’m no better equipped to grieve than to have joy. [As Helen clarified ‘i.e. isn’t able to grieve, because he has to appear joyful on account of losengiers, but neither can he achieve the joy that he simulates having.’]
Lady, full of goodness, whom I wish to serve, if by good manners you deign to receive me [as a lover], who without treachery wishes to serve and implore without deceit, that ought to be better [than his poor state, as described in the first two stanzas].
This song is ‘typical’ in many ways: there’s an opening spring topos, although here it doesn’t make the lover sing, but makes him, paradoxically, sing that he can’t sing about spring because of his love-sorrow. He is forced to simulate joy to combat the gossips, but he’s no more able to do that than he is able to grieve. So he turns to address the lady in the final stanza: if she would accept his love, that would be better than these two ‘stuck’, paradoxical states of 1) singing about not singing and 2) not being able to sorrow openly or feign happiness.
In my thinking about the lyrics in the grand chant section so far, this song is one of a number that prods away at ‘stuck’ psychological states, and, by turning them into song, moves them along in real (performed) time so that they become a distraction from any reflections of such ‘stuck’ thinking that those listening to these songs might be experiencing. I’m working with the idea that court life was psychologically difficult for nobles (I propose a hashtag of #firstestateproblems, since they were of course otherwise highly privileged compared to much of the population of medieval Europe) and that they used participatory aesthetic objects, especially song and dance, to assuage and re-direct some of the potentially dangerous thinking that might result from such difficulties.
Anyway, that’s the news this week. Stay tuned for more sorrowing lovers, paradoxical mental states, and their perverse objects!