William IX is the earliest troubadour, a marvelous poet, and, in his day, one of the most powerful nobles of Europe. I have never successfully translated his lyrics. The Occitan lyric dazzles with its meter and rhyme, using elaborate effects that are – for me – impossible to recreate in English. The two poems that follow are prosy, but the movement of thought should remain visible. As the following essay examines thematics, even a flat-footed version is preferable to none.
“Companho, faray un vers . . .covinen”
My friends, I’m making a verse that’s nice,
with more of craziness than sense
all mixed with love and joy and youth.
Whoever cannot understand’s a jerk,
whoever doesn’t learn it in his heart.
It’s a heavy thing to give up love, love that fits his soul.
My saddle fits two good and gentle horses,
good, dexterous in battle, valiant as well;
but I can’t hang on to both, one won’t tolerate the next.
If I could just domesticate the pair,
I’d never deploy my equipage any other place,
for I’d be mounted better than any man around.
The one was racing champ of the hills,
and it has long been high-spirited and wild,
so savage and wary, it cannot be brushed.
The other grew up around Confolens,
and you never saw one lovelier, I know.
No gold or silver purse could buy that horse from me.
I gave it to its master in its youth,
but I retained the right,
that every year he rode, I rode a hundred or more.
Oh knights, give me advice, I’m in tight straits,
I’ve never felt so torn in a dilemma,
I can’t tell if I should keep Milady Agnes or Arsen.
I hold the castle of Gimel,
with Niol I show off my pride,
for both are bound to me and pledged by oath.
“Companho, tant ai agutz d’avols conres”
My friends, I have had a lot of bad stuff.
I can’t keep from singing and feeling so blue.
But I don’t want to let out quite all my affairs.
So I’ll tell you how things seem now to me:
I hate a guarded cunt and a lake without fish,
and the boasting of jerks who never will act.
Almighty God, my captain and king,
he who first guarded his cunt should have died.
Pretending to serve, he hurt his beloved.
Let me give you the rules of the laws of cunt,
for I used to go wrong and I’ve suffered a lot:
Most things get less when you take some away, but cunt grows.
And to those who will not believe what I say,
let him look in the park near the woods:
cut down a tree, two or three grow instead.
The more that it’s cut, the more that grows there,
the owner will end with more than before!
He’d be mad to complain when he’s suffered no loss.
It’s wrong to cry out in that case.